This morning’s Gospel reading is the Matthew version of the Gospel reading we had yesterday from Luke. So I’m going to bracket that, and reflect this morning on the first reading instead.
This first reading has always intrigued me, ever since I can remember hearing it as a child. God intends to destroy the city of Sodom because of its pervasive wickedness. Abraham, newly in relationship with God, stands up for the innocent of the city, largely because that was where his nephew, Lot, had taken up residence. In what seems to be a case of cosmic “Let’s Make a Deal,” Abraham pleads with God to spare the city if just fifty innocent people could be found there. God agrees and Abraham persists. Eventually God agrees to spare the city if just ten people could be found in the city of Sodom.
Now we don’t know how many people were living in Sodom, but it was certainly a great many more than fifty. But God agrees to spare the city if just ten just people could be found, a number that was probably some fraction of one percent of the population. Now, we know the rest of the story without even having heard it today, don’t we? Sodom is eventually destroyed for its wickedness, along with the city of Gomorrah. So let’s think about that for a minute. Not even ten good people were found in that area, so great and widespread was their wickedness!
Now the Old Testament has a number of stories like this where a great many people are destroyed in their wickedness. From this we should not draw the hasty conclusion that we worship a wrathful God. Instead, we worship a God who is just and merciful, not punishing the great many innocent for the wickedness of but a few. The guilty are punished, but the just are not. And in Christ Jesus, we have the great grace of one being punished for the great wickedness of all of us. So merciful and gracious is our God that in these days after the birth of our Redeemer, we have been granted forgiveness for our sins, because the guilt was borne by our Lord Jesus.
That is why the Psalmist is quick to sing today, “The Lord is kind and merciful!”