We didn’t read all of Genesis 19.1-29 at Matins this morning. The lectionary told us to leave out verses 4-11. This is the eighth time since we began reading our way through the whole of Genesis on 8th January that we’ve been made to skip chunks of the story. Half the omissions appear to have been the selectors kindly letting us off reading through lists of descendants’ names. But half have not been, and I was unusually disturbed this morning at what the selectors are shielding us from.
The missing passage today is the story of the men of Sodom seeking to rape the foreign men (they are actually angels, but the men of Sodom don’t know that) who had come to stay with Lot. So, among other things, we didn’t read about Lot’s offer to send out his virgin daughters so that they might be abused instead; this appears to have been a potential outcome which Lot found preferable to the shame of betraying those to whom he was giving hospitality.
Now I’ve been taught that the purpose of our reading our way through whole books of the Bible is to ensure we are deeply acquainted with the text. And I I’ve been encouraged to feel that being deeply acquainted with the text is to ensure it is all there in our mental knapsack ready for those occasions when we need to make the connections with life around us in our prayers, our personal reflection or our teaching.
In which case there is a gobsmackingly large number of connections which could be made, of which the church’s present divisions over faithful monogamous gay relationships (is the deep sinfulness of Sodom to do with gay sex, or to do with predatory sex of all kinds, or to do with abuse of foreigners, or to do with the breaking of hospitality taboos?) is just one.
What about the question of honour – everything from cultures which make honour killings possible to the way avoiding shame is a motivation which has the strong potential to deflect my own moral compass? What about everything from the prevalence of domestic sexual abuse to the cascade of revelations about the coercive sexual manipulation first in the film industry and then in society generally? Isn’t the story of Abraham’s nephew offering up his daughters exactly what should be prompting our urgent Matins prayers and feeding our discernment about society today?
The selectors have got form. It was Genesis 12.10-13.1 we simply didn’t notice as we finished at 12.9 on Monday 22nd January and then picked up again at 13.2 on Tuesday 23rd January. It appears that Abraham overshooting the promised land, ending up in Egypt, and passing off his pretty wife as his sister so that the local ruler could have a relationship with her without eliminating him is a not dissimilar story which it doesn’t matter being airbrushed out of our awareness of him.
The other two missed portion of Genesis so far have been Noah’s sons finding their drunken naked father (9.20-28) and Abraham circumcising the members of his wider household (17.23-27) which almost makes it look as if prurience is part of the selectors’ motivation. Curious and, I suspect, in the context of the news around us this month, damaging.
The picture is lifted having just been posted on one of Cross Roads village’s Facebook pages. It is part of a postcard showing the temporary church which stood on St James’ site before the present 1910 building, not something I’d yet seen pictured.