Joseph W.H. Lough
Although they are not selected randomly, the connections among the readings for the Revised Common Lectionary are rough and intentionally leave much to the movement of the Spirit, thankfully.
Nevertheless, as we live with a selection of texts – perhaps any selection of texts, images, words, sounds, impressions – we inevitably find relationships among them.
Today I am beginning to reflect on Lot’s choice to settle in the Jordan Valley. Abram says that he would be happy with either the lush Valley or the more parched surrounding hills. He asks Lot to choose. Lot chooses the Valley. Commentators all agree that he chooses the Garden, a reference to the primal Garden of Eden. And, yet, something is wrong.
I suspect that we all might be inclined to fault Lot for choosing the easy way to the Garden, his decision not to pass through the desert or the parched hills. His decision makes for a convenient pairing with Luke 11:3’s “Give us each day our daily bread.” And so we might feel that it was Abram’s asceticism (and not his faith as scripture tells us) that was counted to him for righteousness.
But, then, we are faced with the RCL’s choice of Colossians 2:6-19, a text that condemns the asceticism and self-denial to which some Colossians were apparently attracted.
So, what is the common thread? Is there a common thread?
Not necessarily. But, in this case I believe there is; at least today. Because today I am inclined to think that there is absolutely nothing wrong, essentially, with Lot’s attraction to a land flowing with milk and honey. Lot seizes upon the promise. Who wouldn’t? Its a great promise and who among us wouldn’t want to have it realized?
But then the image of Vegas floods into my head. Vegas, too, is a kind of Garden of Eden. Isn’t it? I think of Broadway and Columbus and Carol Doda’s Condor with its huge lit-up sign: Garden of Eden. So, what are we missing? What’s the difference?
What is the Garden of Eden? Yes, its milk and honey and wine and dates and figs and cheese and goats and lamb. Yes, it is all of those things. But is it only things? Is there an express lane to Eden that bypasses human relationship and care and fellowship and mutual ministry? Or might these other things – which are not things – form the actual core, the heart, of what Eden is? And might not Lot when he chose the Jordan Valley have been a little naive or self-deluded in believing that the opulence of the Valley outweighed the risks of settling in this ready-built, manufactured, commercially viable Eden – this sham duplicate?
Or is it any surprise that when Sarah and Abram see the three strangers, the foreigners, approaching in the desert, their first instinct is to bake bread and serve up the lamb? This daily bread, this feast, surely was far less opulent than the spreads regularly set out in the Jordan Valley. Similarly, some among the Colossians also felt that they could bypass relationship and go straight to God, apparently completely unaware that relationship is itself God, not a means to an end, but is itself that end. Which means that when they retreated, depriving themselves of food, drink, and fellowship; when they beat their bodies into submission, when they mortified their flesh, oddly enough these Colossians were on the same page with Lot who also believed that he had found an express lane to the divine.