SINS OF OMISSION
Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)
My dear encountered couples:
“Get rid of all bitterness, all passion and anger, harsh words, slander, and malice of every kind. In place of these, be kind to one another, compassionate, and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ.” So wrote St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. Would that we would read those words more often and practice them every day.
There is a lot of anger in the world, a lot of bitterness. Someone loses a job, gets spoken to angrily, is treated unkindly, and with a gun goes and shoots down anybody in sight. How many mass murders we’ve had during the last ten years in our country I’d hate to guess. Innocent, unsuspecting people have been shot down in restaurants, in malls, in post offices, on subway trains, at rest stops, in schools, in homes. And the riots, the lootings, the beatings, can anything worse happen than the massacre of the men, women, and children in a Texas church last year? “Be kind to one another,” wrote Paul. “Be compassionate and mutually forgiving.”
Many don’t seem to be listening. Does anybody really listen and faithfully try to practice Paul’s words? Even we who claim to be followers of Christ and his ways. Are we kind, are we compassionate, are we forgiving - all the time? Or only on special occasions, and when we feel like it, and when it’s convenient?
God knows we are really nice people some of the time. Compassion and kindness is a characteristic that Americans are noted for throughout the world. When there is a catastrophe anywhere at all, our food, our money, our goods are soon transported by plane to wherever needed. Hearts open up, pocket books are emptied, we give and give and give. Our armies are sent into foreign lands. Our service men and women give their lives to protect the defenseless, to feed the starving, to keep the peace, often biting off more than we can chew, maybe sometimes making matters worse. But we mean well, don’t we? Billions we give to governments and people of other countries, not always appreciated by those who receive it, but remembered in heaven by the One who counts most. God loves those with generous hearts.
What it comes down to is that in our country, as in all the countries of the world, there are kind and compassionate people, and some very bitter and hate-filled people. You and I might not be able to do a whole 1ot about those filled with hostility, but we can certainly do our best to see that we rid ourselves of any traces of bitterness.
Are you angry with anyone? Is there anybody you have been waiting to get even with for something they have done to you? Are you prejudiced against people because they are of another class, race, religion, or whatever? Is there anyone you refuse to attempt to understand, anyone whose shoes you refuse to even imagine yourself walking in, anyone you won’t try to forgive or lend a helping hand to? Is there anybody whose welfare and happiness you refuse to pray for? If so, you’ve got problems.
But then isn’t that why all of us are here? We all are lacking in love and compassion. And we are here in church seeking God’s help. It isn’t that we go out of our way to do unkind things for others, is it? It is more like we neglect the doing of them. Maybe we find ourselves too busy, or sick, or financially unable. There are always some apparently good excuses we can come up with for not attempting to make life better for somebody else. And it is certainly true that none of us can help everybody. But maybe most of us can at least try to be a bit more considerate than we have been. What we omit doing can be a greater sin than what we actually do. I am referring to what is called, “Sins of Omission.”
There are homeless, foodless, and helpless people in almost every city, town, and village. We don’t have to look far. Right at this very moment, down the street from where you live, someone might be without water, without electricity, without a fan. There are people with mental problems and physical illnesses, and guess what! They have no insurance, no money for a doctor, not even enough change to buy some over—the-counter medicine at a discount store. And if you know anything about welfare, most people who receive it continue to live in a dire state of poverty. Welfare rules, regulations, and red tape are designed to keep most needy people needy. Do we omit doing what we could do for some of them?
How about the kind word we could have said to somebody, but didn’t? The letter we could have written, but didn’t, the flowers we didn’t send, the phone call we didn’t return, the gift we didn’t acknowledge. I’m sure you can think of more examples. What we do and what we omit doing help to form our characters and establish our everlasting personalities.
Remember what Jesus said about the Last Judgment? Some people might hear words like these spoken to them, “You did not feed me; you did not clothe me, you did not give me anything to drink. You didn’t visit me when I was sick, you forgot me when I was in prison.” And when Jesus would be asked, “When was it we didn’t do all that for you?” he would answer: “Whenever there was anyone you did not treat with love and compassion when you could have, you missed the chance to show some love for me.” And off to hell those people would go - people who sinned through omission.
It isn’t like we’ve got much choice, is it? It isn’t like Jesus said, “Here it is. This is how I would like you to live, but if you prefer another way, that’s all right. I’ll see to it that you get into heaven anyhow.” Nooo, No! Oh we have been given free will, and we will always have it - both in this life and in the next. But none of us will go to heaven without becoming the person God wants us to be. We are free to live the way we choose, but our choice is fundamentally between love and hate, compassion and hardness, forgiveness and condemnation. We are free to make our own choices about everything, yes, but let us not kid ourselves. Whenever we choose, we are choosing between heaven and hell.
“Get rid of all bitterness,” wrote Paul. “Get rid of all passion and anger, harsh words, slander, and malice of every kind. In place of these, be kind to one another, be compassionate, and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ.” We are to give the gift of our compassion to one another every day - whether we are of pleasing fragrance or not.