In 2008, I was out walking on my lunch break in the neighborhood of my apartment. The walk took me past a playground at a local elementary school. There on that playground one beautiful spring day, I watched the children playing as I was walked past. Then I saw a little boy with a bigger boy sitting on his back rubbing the smaller boys face into the wood chips. I looked around and saw that all the other children turned away and abandoned the poor child and the teachers were busy chatting in the shade and didn’t see what was happening.
I remember feeling pangs of sorrow for the child and before I could stop myself, I whipped out my teacher voice and said “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” and immediately the bigger child stopped looked at me and then looked at the teachers coming over. He got off the other child’s back helped him up and brushed off his face. We all have probably been one of the characters in this story. We have been those other children who did not want to get involved because we didn’t want to get beaten up. We have been the teachers too engrossed in our own lives to take notice of the people in need right in front of our faces. Unfortunately, we have all been in desperate need of someone else’s help before. And I would hope that at least once in our lives we have spoken up for someone in need.
The story in Genesis is all about doing the right thing and speaking up for the needs of those who can’t do so for themselves. I like to think of this as the Good Samaritan story of the Old Testament. Abraham had the courage to stand face to face with an angry angel of the Lord, a vessel for the spirit of God, and he spoke up despite fear, for the safety of all the innocent people who might reside in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Yes, he had specifically his nephew Lot in mind. But he tried to intercede on behalf of the city to save them from destruction. So he entered into a negotiation essentially bickering with the angel. In the process, he reminded God of the consequences of such devastating destruction. To wipe out a city, in this case two cities, there was inevitably going to be innocent lives lost. Can you condemn an entire people for the poor actions of a few or of those who are in powerful positions? Abraham was saying “no you can’t”. And I sure hope that we are not all judged by the morality of our leaders. Abraham was saying that each person should be judged as an individual and if there were the potential for goodness then you cannot just wipe out all of the people. Not everyone can be blamed for the actions of a few.
Just like in the Good Samaritan story, not all people from a seemingly “evil” city are bad people and should not be judged as such. This account show us how important it is to speak up when there is need, where there is danger, where there are people being abused. It is our responsibility as believers in God. It is our heritage as spiritual children of Israel.
Most people read these stories from the Old Testament and think they are either just history or folklore. But they serve an important purpose. They show us a model of morality, a model of what it means to be children of God and how we are to interact in society. It is too easy to see hardship and abuses and to pretend we didn’t see what we did, or make excuses for the abusers, or actively choose not to get involved. It is too easy to look the other way saying someone else will take care of it. Someone else may not speak up for those who have no voice and it just may be you who is being called to protect the innocent.
We are thus called to act courageously, as Abraham did. We are called to stand up for the innocent, the good, those who can’t stand up for themselves. C.S.Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point”. We are called to live our faiths and the convictions that come from faithful lives with courage. That means reaching out to those in need. That means caring for those who have no one else to care for them. That means taking the virtues instilled in us from our faiths and making them tenants of our lives, living our life experiences and looking at the world through those lenses and doing something to make this place a better place to live in for all peoples.
Abraham believed in protecting the innocent; he believed in standing up for those who may experience abuse. His faith in God shaped his beliefs and he lived them unabashedly. He was even willing to challenge the very spirit of God in the form of angels sent specifically to destroy a whole people, to make sure that innocent lives did not suffer and die senselessly for the crimes of others. He faced the possible wrath of God for those potential people, some of which he did not know. If he could face off God, then I think we are being called to think about how we could better live into the teachings of our own faith and how we can use those teachings to make this world better. So this week contemplate and act upon these questions: How have I cared for those in need? How do I work for those who have no voice? How do I live the love of Christ? Then ask God to give you the courage to speak up, to give you the courage of Abraham. The courage to speak up when there are people who are suffering.
 C.S. Lewish, 20th century theologian.
(Based on Genesis 18: 20-32)