In religious life and ministry we're all familiar with the pejorative sense of 'pastoral.' It's when in the name of being nice or avoiding difficult conversations we compromise the orthodoxy of our teaching or fail to give real pastoral care. For example, if a parish priest provides sacraments and services to everyone who calls or comes to the door, no questions asked, he is not really the kind and 'pastoral' minister he thinks he is, but has avoided real pastoral relationship just as much as the mean priest who discourages and dismisses people with all kinds of conditions, demands, and paperwork.
I have to say that one of these 'pastoral' moments comes up in the lectionary in these days. Between yesterday and today the gentle editors of the lectionary have us skip over the first part of Genesis 19, the sin of the Sodomites. Yesterday Abraham was pleading for Sodom, and today Lot and his family are escaping its destruction. What happened in between is safely omitted.
What was the sin of the Sodomites? Was it homosexual acts as it is in the common cultural imagination? Or could it be more properly violence, rape, and an egregious failure in hospitality? The lectionary, by omitting the passage, relieves sacred ministers from having to preach on these questions, and gives the praying Church permission not to reflect on them and wonder what grace of new understanding God might desire to give us.
And how salutary such a reflection might be in a Church which needs to struggle with its own legacy of the sexualized abuse of power!
But thanks to the lectionary today, we have one more nice little way to excuse ourselves from that challenge. How pastoral.