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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Monday, July 29, 2019           

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 18:20–32              

Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.” So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord.

Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” (NRSV)

In this passage, Abraham courageously questions the mercy of God. I believe we have all, at challenging times in our life, questioned the mercy and justice of God, though perhaps not quite as bluntly as Abraham did.

I’m a teacher here in Chicago, and this past week a former student at my school, who this time last year was getting ready to walk across the graduation stage, died due to the senseless gun violence that continues to plague our city. He was only eighteen years old. With so much injustice and suffering it’s easy to question the mercy of God—perhaps is even necessary, if not natural to do so.

In these verses from Genesis, God is presented with an unfathomable task: to cleanse the city of its sins, but in order to do so, God must consider the risk and the reward. In cleansing the city of its wickedness, the innocent too will perish, and so begins Abraham’s relentless line of questioning: is such a price to be paid, will God punish the innocent for the sins of wicked? God informs Abraham that he will not, not for fifty innocent lives, not for thirty, not for ten, and—as I believe—not even for one, for even just one person, one innocent life, is precious and dear to God.

I take comfort in this, and while we must always continue to fight against evil and hatred in its ever-changing shapes and sizes, this must never come at the price of the innocent and the good, which inevitably exists alongside it. For though it is often overlooked and not considered as newsworthy or as striking as its opponent, it too is there and deserves our attention and protection.

Dear Lord, give me the strength and wisdom to live by your example, to resist any temptation for vengeance when I am hurt or feel wronged, but instead to use that energy and compassion to protect the innocent and the good that exists all around me, regardless of how big or small it may be. Amen.

Written by Stephanie Jenks, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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