The Good Lot
“Two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. ‘My lords,’ he said, ‘please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.’
‘No,’ they answered, ‘we will spend the night in the square.’
But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate.” Genesis 19:1-4
I still feel a sting of regret whenever I think about Tomohito. When I was in middle school my parents opened our home to a student from Japan. I don’t remember how long Tomohito stayed with us but I do know that I was a terrible host-brother. I was an only child and not accustomed to sharing my bathroom, my stuff, or my parent’s attention. Suddenly having a sibling turned my world upside down in ways I did not handle well. I did not like this new reality and I made sure my displeasure was felt by all. Tomohito had shown courage in coming to a foreign land, he was a visitor to our country, a guest in our home, and I acted like a jerk to him.
Hospitality is a central value in the scriptures. In the ancient world hospitality was about more than manners, it was an issue of life or death. Hospitality is about more than inviting someone into your home, it is about inviting them into your care. It is about making space in your heart for another, for their ideas and for their hopes. Hospitality is a significant aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Consider the many meals he shared with others, the homes he was invited into, and the fact that a major complaint against him was that he made space for those people whom the religious elites had shunned. In John 13:20 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever welcomes the one I send welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Hospitality is a posture, an orientation, to the world that is fearless and ready to receive the wonder of God revealed in all manner of creation. Jesus modeled for us God’s radical welcome, his extravagant hospitality. It is this kind of life saving hospitality that Lot extended to two visitors.
Rabbinical tradition surmises that Lot had been appointed as a judge in Sodom and was therefore stationed at the gate (a common place for disputes to be resolved in the ancient world). While at the gate two angels (appearing as men) came into Sodom. They had been sent by God to destroy the city because the outcry of others against the city was so great. The story implies that Lot does not know true nature or purpose of his guests, yet he knew that if they stayed in the city center for the night they would be harmed or killed. The wickedness of Sodom is their abuse of power revealed in their inhospitality. God’s law repeatedly calls for compassion and hospitality to be extended to the poor, the foreigner, and those without power. God’s righteous indignation with bullies is replete in the scripture. Lot knows his city. Lot knows there will be trouble for himself if the city learns he has taken them in. And yet he insists they come under his care.
It feels good to see Lot rise tall, to be courageous when the issue is uncertain and likely perilous. It feels even better to rise tall ourselves and trust God’s way of extravagant hospitality. Hospitality is more than etiquette; it is a reflection of God’s heart, which welcomes us in.