Genesis 18:22 So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26 And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”
Sodom was a city of thousands (at least), perhaps tens of thousands – or even more. In the next chapter of Genesis we will learn more about the great wickedness of the place. God thinks the city should be wiped out as a result. What strikes me about this passage today is the mercy God extends to the many on behalf of the few. The figure starts at “fifty righteous” for whose sake God would spare the city, but Abraham bargains the number down to ten people.
Today is MLK day in the US, when we remember the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – an icon and pioneer in the struggle for civil rights. It’s true that our country has made much progress in the last 50+ years, but there is a long way to go. Our fellow Americans, particularly young African-Americans men, continue to die in disproportionate numbers. Mass shootings involving mentally unstable people with access to firearms are becoming routine. Unborn children continue to die by the thousands in our clinics. Opioid addiction and death are rampant in many parts of our country. It would not be a stretch to say that my country is rife with wickedness and injustice.
I’m also aware that I’m shielded from much of the struggle other people experience regularly. I may be a member of an ethnic minority, but my family is highly acculturated – even privileged. We are mostly educated professional people with opportunities we take for granted. This was not so 2 or three generations ago when my grandparents and great-grandparents were marginalized in the US, but that is largely a thing of the past. For this reason it’s easy for me to ignore the injustice going on around me.
This morning I wonder – would I be considered by God to be one of the righteous or one of the wicked? Based on merit alone I would likely be considered wicked. This is not to say other people would identify me as such, but God knows my secret self – my thoughts, my (sometimes) hard heart, my sinful actions or inactions. It’s not pretty.
But the passage also reminds of the God’s great mercy and love for people. Including me and you. I’m keenly aware this morning I don’t deserve mercy, but judgment. Yet, through Jesus Christ, God has made a way for me to be made whole again. It’s a gift I hope I never take for granted.
Heavenly Father you see beyond the public face we show to others, down to the depth of our souls. We admit there is wickedness in us that repulses you. Have mercy upon us sinners and bring us to everlasting life for the sake of Jesus our Savior. Amen.