We are in an unprecedented time. Never before has an entire country – even the world, completely shut down like we have done these past few months. There are strong feelings on both sides, some who want to stay closed till there is a vaccine, others who want to open immediately with no restrictions. Amid all the secondary consequences this shutdown has caused, one result is to highlight a particular challenge of faithfulness. That challenge is this: we often feel much more responsibility for our sins of commission (what we do) than our sins of omission (what we leave undone).
Consider this story Jesus told:
He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ —-Matthew 25:24-25
In the text quoted above, a master returns seeking to settle accounts with his servants. The first two servants do well, work hard, and produce a return for their master, and he blesses them. The last servant does not work. He says he was afraid and buried the talent. He gives it back to the master.
Notice that this person did return the talent to his master—it is not as if he ran off with the money and dared the authorities to catch him. It is not what he did was wrong. He did wrong by doing nothing.
This becomes relevant to the current time because of the paralyzing fear of sickness and additional paralyzing fear of potential social shame or lawsuits. We are fearful that an action we do could lead directly to hurting someone else. That is appropriate. We certainly should never want to cause harm to someone else. The problem, however, is that we often fail to see how inaction harms others. We seem to weigh a sin of commission more heavily than a sin of omission. We should not, however. It is equally wrong to leave undone the things we should do.
This has very relevant practical application. It is easy to feel more guilty about my sins of commission — a hurtful word spoken, a temper lost, a selfish purchase. I feel more responsible for these than for those things I do not do – a kind word not given, failing to help someone who is hurting, an opportunity for generosity I pass up.
Others will largely be the ones who make decisions on the current crisis. However, you and I can act today to recognize that we have underestimated the importance of our omissions. When we consider James 1:27, notice it has both advice on what to do, as well as what to avoid: “religion which our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this— “To look after widows and orphans in distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Amid a season of caution and concern, let’s make sure we are also doing the active and positive work of loving one another.