Sins of Commission and Omission
The Rev. Lisa Smith Fry, Sunday, October 1, 2017
“By whose authority do you do and say these things?”
The Pharisees have watched this popular prophet, teacher, healer – and rabble-rouser–come into Jerusalem—and have witnessed people treating him like a king as he rode into the city. Next, they heard all about him creating a huge riot in the temple—damaging the businesses there, angry and full of rhetoric about people making a profit off of God. Lastly, this Jesus was saying that everyone is connected with God, even sinners.
These Pharisees could both read and write, they knew Hebraic law, and they were steeped in the great rabbinical masters. Many of them even knew how to read and write in Greek. Who was this person–this Jesus—from far away—in Nazareth? Probably illiterate, worked with his hands, not from a good family—why were people thinking he spoke with authority?
It was unthinkable. People who spoke with authority were knowledgeable or skilled—masters in their field: authorities on something: business, religion, trades.
And if they weren’t knowledgeable or skilled, then they had another kind of authority: control. Those who ruled. In the city of Jerusalem, Pharisees had both of these things: knowledge and power. In all the ways that we understand the word, they had authority.
An interesting word, authority—and the Greek word used here is: exousia. It is a combination of ex—as in “out of” (excommunicate- out of communion or exhale- to breathe out) and ousia, being.
Authority in the original Greek then would literally mean “out of being”. Jesus’ authority came out of his very being, out of who he was.
Jesus taught that his authority came out of his being in communion with God, of his experience with God, of his understanding of how he and God were connected. And this is exactly what frightened the Pharisees, the ruling authorities–Jesus saying that we are all connected with God, and God is connected to every one of us, and that this connection between us and God should inform our very be-ing.
And how does this connection with God inform our actions? To explain it, Jesus gave them this parable.
In this story we have a father asking his two sons to do something for him. One son readily promises his father to do this thing—but then he does not do it. The other son says he won’t do what his father asks, but in fact, does it. Which of the two, Jesus asks, does the will of the father?
The Pharisees say that of course the one that actually did what the father wanted.
Obviously we are all thinking it clearly would be better if the son had said that he would do what the father asked, and then do it. But that’s not the choice Jesus gives us in this parable. Doesn’t it make you wonder why?
Neither of the sons is perfect. And this is often the reality.
How often do we say one thing and do another? We SAY we follow Christ and because of that—we love our neighbor as ourselves. But DO we? Always? Are there some people that we’d rather not love?
If you’re as old as I am –you probably learned about sins of omission and sins of commission in the old catechism days. If you didn’t – that’s ok—we still talk about it in confession. You just may not know it by that name.
Remember this? It’s part of the confession: “Most merciful God we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed: by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”
We have sinned by doing wrong things, making mistakes or “missing the mark”, as the word “sin” is literally translated. That’s a sin of commission—sinning by doing something wrong. Committing a wrong action.
But we have also failed—sinned– in what we have left undone. We haven’t actually committed a wrong action—we’ve just failed to do something right when we had the opportunity.. This is what is known as a sin of omission—omitting something: leaving something out.
So, in Jesus’ view in this parable today—it all comes down to how much what we say matches what we do.
We say we follow Christ, and Christ says to love our neighbor—and by that he means that anyone who isn’t ME, is my neighbor. To each of you it means the exact same thing: whoever is not YOU, is your neighbor.
Loving our neighbor is judged just as much by what we don’t do to love our neighbor, as it is by what we do.
Do we say we love our neighbor, but then – later—show by our actions, or our speech, or our neglect, that there really are those we can’t love or respect? Are there people for whom we can’t act in a loving manner? Can’t support? Judge? We may not overtly work against them—but we don’t kill them with kindness either.
Evidently Jesus felt the Pharisees were like that.
- The Pharisees think they are right and the sinners are wrong. Jesus forgives and loves the sinners.
- The Pharisees find it easy to judge others’ mistakes. The sinners are well aware they need God’s mercy.
- The Pharisees want to argue with Jesus. The sinners want to listen to Jesus.
- The Pharisees aren’t looking for forgiveness—don’t think they need it.
But it’s the tax collectors and the prostitutes, the outcasts and the sinners who are given love and mercy by Jesus. Why? Because when they make mistakes they admit it. And he forgives them.
God is connected to every one of us, and this connection informs our actions. But we sometimes need to realize that we do more harm from our lack of love for each other, than for any other sin we can commit. How often does our judgement of others win out over love?
May we remember that our sins of omission are every bit as important to God as our sins of commission. And—may God strengthen the connection between us so that we finally learn to see the face of God in everyone.