I want to feel bad for Lot’s wife in today’s first reading. Not only is she not even called by name in the entire reading, but she gets turned into a pillar of salt just for a backward glance. But, sad as it is, this is the whole point of the reading, and it’s not like they weren’t warned – the angel was very clear: “Flee for your life! Don’t look back or stop anywhere on the Plain. Get off to the hills at once, or you will be swept away.” So in some ways, she deserved what she got. But I think the reading is getting at something a little deeper here than a mere glance over one’s shoulder.
Indeed the real issue is, what did that looking back mean? Sodom and Gomorrah were being destroyed for their wanton evil. They may have once been wonderful cities, but they had become centers of every kind of evil and debased action. And this evil was so pervasive that no other corrective action other than total destruction of the cities would do. If yesterday had not been the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, we would have heard the famous reading about Abraham and God bargaining to save those cities. At the end of it all, God agrees at Abraham’s urging not to destroy the place if just ten righteous people could be found there. Obviously the righteous numbered less than ten, amounting to just Lot, his wife, and his two daughters.
But, so pervasive was the evil of that place, that it infected even Lot’s wife, who didn’t just glance back to see if she dropped something. No, the backward glance was more likely sorrow for what she left behind; she was not untainted by the scandal of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The lesson is that when God leads us forward, we cannot debase ourselves to look back. The Psalmist has it right today, as always, when he says, “For your mercy is before my eyes, and I walk in your truth.” Your mercy is before my eyes, so I need to look forward, not back. Looking backward leads us to our old sinful ways; looking forward is what leads us to our God. So if God is giving us the chance to move forward, as he did for Lot and his wife and his daughters, then we can do no less than fix our eyes on the path ahead, cutting our ties with everything that is behind us.