Remember Lot’s wife

Reflecting on the daily readings at Mass from the Book of Genesis, women do not come out smelling of roses! Take Abraham’s wife Sarah, for instance. She is childless but lacks the patience to wait for God to keep his promise to provide that longed for baby. She uses her slave girl Hagar to provide an heir for her frustrated husband and shouldn’t have been surprised when Hagar turned on her when she “produced the goods.”

Yet the Bible appears to accept the sin of adultery without batting an eyelid! When the promise is about to be fulfilled, Sarah is caught out in a lie, denying her incredulous laughter behind God’s back! Once her child, Isaac, is born and weaned, Sarah becomes even more spiteful and vindictive, insisting that Abraham abandon Hagar and Ishmael without mercy. But God accepts what people reject.

This is a rather sad, pathetic ending to a glorious story of God’s faithfulness to his word and the beginning of the great nation of Israel!

Things get no better when the camera moves on in this soap opera which we might call “Sodom and Gomorrah wives,” to Mr and Mrs Lot! Note the biblical author (Moses?) doesn’t even give us her name, such is the scorn poured out on this lady soon to be turned into a pillar of salt.

Lot is Abraham’s nephew, who earlier parted company with him and settled near the cities of the plains, the notorious “S and G.” As young married people, they are fascinated by the bright lights and glamour of the city, unlike the sensible older couple who are happy to stay in their tents away from it all, with their flocks and herds.

God is not pleased with the immoral goings on in these evil cities and is determined to punish them, in spite of Abraham’s brave but fruitless attempt to change the Lord’s mind if he can only find ten just men. Still, the Lord wants the Lot family to escape the upcoming holocaust of fire and brimstone and sends angels to literally take them by the hand out of the city, urging them to head for the hills.

But first Lot hesitates and bargains with the Lord to take an easier route to a small town called Zoar (Hebrew meaning “little” or “insignificant”). Like his uncle, Lot is happy to bargain with God and gets his way. If he can’t get the big city, a smaller one will have to do. Not for him the life of a nomad in tents like old Abe.

But the real problem lies with Mrs Lot who disobeys the command not to look back and is promptly reduced to salt. What a sad ending to a heroic tale of good people being saved from the clutches of evil.
But Mrs Lot’s looking back is not really a sin of disobedience. Her sin is to regret leaving behind her happy life in Sodom, the parties, the days out with the kids, the buzz of city life. She has compromised and colluded with the evil goings on, though not directly involved.

Why else would she and her husband stay there? There is no evidence that they were prisoners like the Israelites in Egypt. If the place was so bad that God is going to destroy it, why should the Lots be bringing up their children in such a wicked place? They are like so many good people in every age who live in the midst of evil and look the other way, shrugging their shoulders in resignation at the antics of their neighbours.

There is no indication that Lot and his wife are sent to Sodom in order to reflect God’s holiness. Instead of being salt to the earth according to the meaning Jesus gives this image in the Gospel, this couple are insipid, people who have lost their savour, and Mrs Lot becomes a pillar of salt in another negative sense. Lot deserves to be one too! They stand for so many religious believers throughout the ages who simply fit in with the world around them when they should be standing up as witnesses to Godly principles.

The image of God saving good people from an evil world is one image of salvation. It is even in the New Testament in the judgement scene in Matthew, Chapter 25, when Jesus speaks of the separation of sheep from goats. But that is for the end of time.

In the meantime, Jesus is asking his followers not to leave the world like rats deserting a sinking ship but enter into the world as he himself did befriending the tax collectors and sinners. We are truly meant to be salt to the earth and light to the world, a leaven raising society up.

If Lot and his wife had been a bit more like that in their lives in Sodom, Uncle Abraham might well have found more just men and women to stay God’s hand from his punishing wrath!

Kieran Cronin OFM