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Bible In A Year: Day 9

Genesis 19-21
Psalm 9
Mathew 9

We start today’s readings with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This story is well known and widespread, the reasons for the destruction are well known as well, but modernists have decided that the “real reason” for the city’s destruction was their inhospitable attitude to strangers. The first several verses of chapter 19 give us the actual reason for the fire and brimstone that rains down on them a few verses later.

First of all we see Lot at the gates of the city, this is an area where commerce and civic engagement took place in the ancient near east. This detail shows that Lot was a respected elder in the city and possibly in a position of authority. This should be seen as a black mark against Lot, who we all usually assume to be of good moral character like his uncle Abraham. When the angelic visitors arrive, Lot is understandably scared for their safety… in the city he’s lived in for years… that he is possibly a civic leader in… so he knew what was up in Sodom and yet he remained.

After begging them to stay in his house, because he obviously knew what befell travelers in his fair city, the angels relented and went inside and had dinner with Lot and his family. The men of the city then arrive outside and demanded that Lot send out the visitors so the may “know them”, and make no mistake about it, they weren’t looking to have a conversation and buy them a cup of coffee, the usage of “know” in this context is a euphemism for sexual relations.

How wicked was this city, that this man was raising a family in, that their first reaction to a pair of travelers passing through was to form a mob and demand they be handed over to be the victims of a violent sexual assault? What happens next wasn’t because of a “lack of hospitality”.

The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are “sins that cry to heaven”: the blood of Abel, the sin of the Sodomites, the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt, the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan, injustice to the wage earner.

CCC 1867

I also can’t fail to mention the offer that Lot makes to the gathered crowd. He offers them his two virgin daughters to be violated in lieu of the visiting angels. Unsurprisingly they turn down the offer and Lot is pulled back inside. I’ve personally read the entire book of Genesis at least a half dozen times, and always assumed Lot was one of the ten righteous that Abraham had bargained the Lord down to in the previous chapter, but upon closer inspection it’s pretty plain to see that the city of Sodom has thoroughly corrupted Lot, and he was as wicked as the other denizens of that doomed city.

Saved by the angels and warned to leave, Lot and his family flee to Zoar. But showing the grip that Sodom had on them, his wife turns back to look at the city and was turned to a pillar of salt. This can analogically apply to us looking back on the life of sin we are to leave behind after baptism, but thankfully for us we have the sacrament of reconciliation to turn to, rather than turn into salt.

The next chapter returns to Abraham and Sarah, and we see a second instance of him passing her off as his sister. Even though this was partly true it was an intentional deception and showed slight bit of doubt in Abraham. You see, he was promised a son through Sarah, and that had yet to happen, but he also worried that Abimelech would kill him to steal his wife. Obviously with one or both of them dead that promise could not come to pass, and yet he hesitated.

When his deception was revealed to Abimelech in a dream he confronted Abraham, who admitted the truth and they ended up making a covenant in the next chapter, after the birth of Isaac.

In chapter 21 Sarah finally received the fulfillment of the promise made when the three visitors had come to them and promised her a child. And when Isaac was a toddler she had Hagar and Ishmael sent off into quasi-exile. It’s worth noting that Sarah’s ill-conceived plan for Abraham to father a child with Hagar results in an adversarial group of people called the Ishmaelites eventually carrying one of her great-grandsons off as a slave to Egypt.

Psalm 9

Psalm 9 fits perfectly with our readings from Genesis. It talks of the judgment of the Lord on the wicked and His protection of the just. This points to the reason for the divine judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah, it wasn’t just to punish the wicked for their sins, it was also to both serve as a warning to others and to prevent the spread of this wickedness. As we can see with Lot and his wife, when you surround yourself with wicked people and wicked practices they can rub off on you. We have all heard the saying, and even Saint Paul repeats it, that “bad company ruins goof morals” and it is so true.

We read that same sentiment in the first psalm, that blessed is the man who doesn’t walk with sinners and dwells on thoughts of the Lord. And in proverbs we hear something similar when Solomon says “He who walks with wise men becomes wise,but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)

Mathew 9

We start off this chapter with Jesus healing the paralytic man. He does so by first absolving the man of his sins, which sets off some of the religious authorities and leads them to accuse Him of blasphemy. Up until this time, the only way to receive forgiveness for your sins was to offer a sin offering to the Lord at the temple in Jerusalem, but here is this traveling preacher offering forgiveness outside the limits of the Mosaic Covenant. Had Jesus just been another traveling rabbi they would’ve been absolutely right, but Jesus has the authority to forgive sins because of who He is. As God, He has the authority to forgive this man, and after He does so he then physically heals him as a sign of His power and authority. After the resurrection, when Jesus breaths on the apostles and gives them all authority that He had on earth, He also explicitly tells them that they have the power and authority to forgive sins through Him, so this scene can rightly be seen as foreshadowing the sacrament of reconciliation.

The healing of the paralytic signifies the future resurrection of the faithful. The paralytic is the Christian whose sins are forgiven and who stands before God as son (9:2). When the Lord raises him (9:7), he will take up the bed of his body (9:7) and proceed to his heavenly home with God

Saint Ambrose
Caravaggio’s Call of St Mathew
Caravaggio’s Call of St Mathew

The next part of chapter 9 involves the calling to discipleship of the person traditionally associated with the Gospel we are reading. Saint Mathew was a tax collector, and as such he was a collaborator with the brutal occupation of Judea. Think Vichy France during World War II and you can get somewhat of an idea what people thought of those who collaborated with the Romans. Add on top of that the fact that taxes haven’t been popular with anyone except politicians since the dawn of time. To say Saint Mathew was an unlikely disciple of the new Son of David would be a massive understatement. But here is the Lord calling the sinners to repentance and discipleship. I think back on my own life and can vividly remember times when I would’ve been the most unlikely of followers, as I’m sure everyone can, but that God we have been called and forgiven through the grace of God.

In Caravaggio’s Call of St Mathew, you see the outstretched hand of Jesus, and He is pointing at St Mathew man at the table. I’ve looked at this painting and even read different people’s take on what is happening and I can’t decide between two possibilities happening here. One is the the man pointing as if saying “who me?” is Mathew and the two men past him as so busy counting the money (the god that they worship) that they fail to notice the messiah standing at the door and calling their boss to follow Him. The second possibility is that the man pointing is showing who the boss is, and taking any heat off himself, while the tax collector Mathew hangs his head in shame and can’t even look up because he’s well aware of how his profession is rightfully perceived by his fellow Jews.

Either interpretation of this painting is viable, and the point driven home is that the call to discipleship with Christ is for all of us, no matter what we’ve done in the past, we all have a future with Jesus. /

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