Sending Out The Twelve
In Matthew 10 Jesus sent out the twelve disciples with some pretty straight forward instructions. Don’t go to the Gentile town or into Samaria, but go to the Hebrews, the lost sheep of Israel. And as you go, preach “The Kingdom of Heaven is near”. And while your at it, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin disease and restore them to community, and expel any demons you encounter.
For us this sounds a bit far fetched, and I’m sure they thought “You want us to do what? Sure, we’ve seen you do all these things, but us?” But the twelve also knew that the goal of a disciple was to be like their Rabbi. And their Rabbi had hand picked them, believing that they could become like him.
As they prepared to leave, Jesus gave them a few more instructions. Don’t take any money or a pack of supplies and clothing. You will be supplied what you need on the journey. He told them that when they arrived in a village, they were to look for someone trustworthy and to stay with them for their entire visit in that town. But, He told them not everyone would welcome them. His instructions were that if the people of the house or village will not welcome you, shake the dust from your feet. If they don’t welcome you it will be better on the Day of Judgement for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
Does Jesus remember what happened at Sodom and Gomorrah? Total destruction because of their sin. How can it be worse for these towns than for Sodom and Gomorrah? And what in the world does welcoming Jesus disciples have to do with Sodom and Gomorrah anyway?
A lot as it turns out (no pun intended). When we think of the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, we think back to sermons about the sin of the cities. And often times we like to pick and choose which sins we talk about. But in our culture Sodom and Gomorrah has come to represent only one sin. Sexual immorality, and specifically sexual immorality with the same sex. Homosexuality. And we use this story to show just how bad we think God thinks this particular sin is. And He does think it is bad, just as bad as any other sexual immorality. But we ignore the rest of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah and focus on that one.
Hospitality was highly valued in the culture of Jesus’ day, as it had been in the Bedouin culture of Abraham. God put a high value on taking care of the foreigner and stranger, of the traveller in need and caring for the poor. And as Jesus sent out his disciples, he was aware that not everyone would offer the hospitality they might expect.
Jesus reminds them of another story where the servants of God enter a village and are not received warmly by the townspeople, with the exception of Lot. Sure, Sodom and Gomorrah had a lot of issues, but one of the main ones was their lack of hospitality. Of not loving their neighbor as they should. You may think I’m way off base here, but stick with me.
“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me …” 16:49-50 NIV
What about Sexual Immorality?
Was their sexual immorality part of the problem? Sure. I’m not suggesting we forget that part of the story. But God seems to be as concerned, if not more concerned, with their lack of care for the poor and needy. They didn’t welcome the stranger into their village and care for them.
Clearly in the context of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples this is what he is referencing. As he sends out the twelve, he is counting on the villages to offer hospitality to them. And he gives instructions about what to do if they don’t receive that welcome they should.
The Greater Sin
Have you ever thought about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah from this perspective? In your list of sins, which do you rank higher sexual immorality or lack of caring for the poor and the stranger?