Punishment or Compassion

In today’s first Mass reading, Abraham argues with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. God is determined to destroy the city because of the gravity of the sin of the people there. When God tells Abraham His plan, Abraham challenges him not to “sweep away the innocent with the guilty,” and proceeds to haggle with God. Will you spare the city if you find 50 innocent people there? Great, then will you spare it if you find 45? Terrific, what about 40? Wonderful, do I hear 30? Abraham doesn’t cease his argument until God agrees that if there are ten innocent people in the cities, the cities will not be destroyed.

Scripture scholars and others have written a lot about this passage. Some call it the first instance of intercessory prayer. Some suggest the point is to demonstrate that God always acts justly. Some point out that the purpose of the dialogue was not to change God’s mind but to help Abraham grow in his understanding of God.

Perhaps one point of the passage is to compare our judgment with God’s.

Why doesn’t God go ahead with his plan to punish Sodom and Gomorrah?

God doesn’t actually desire punishment. God’s desire is for reconciliation. God’s desire is to bring all people to God’s self. God is a God of love, not vengeance and destruction.

We don’t always act with the same desire. We have a much greater desire to punish those who have transgressed than does God. (Listen to the words of preachers and others who feel the need to frequently remind people of the wrath of God that will be inflicted upon them.)

Our invitation is to show God’s compassion and love to all who we meet – whatever they have done and whoever they are. To spend less time worrying about who should be punished and why, and more time loving them.

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