By Father Casey

There is a quote often attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which says, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”[1] It is easy to imagine Bonhoeffer saying this out of frustration with German Christians in the 1930s, most of whom remained silent in the face of Nazi brutality for the sake of seeing their country regain its former greatness. Many whom Bonhoeffer had admired before Hitler’s rise never said a public word against the cruelty or injustice of the Reich until it was too late.

“God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Have you ever noticed that when we say the Confession, we confess to sinning “by what we have done and by what we have left undone”? These sins that result from our inaction are called “sins of omission,” because as the Book of James puts it, “anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin (James 4:17).” When we say nothing to someone who is harming someone else; when we do nothing to help someone in urgent need. Though they are essentially the lack of action, these are sins every bit as real as when we say or do the wrong thing. To not speak is actually to speak. To not act is to act.

In the gospel this weekend, Jesus tells a parable that warns us about sins of omission (Matthew 25:14-30). Three servants are entrusted with extravagant sums by their master, who departs for another country and leaves them in charge. Two of the servants manage the trust well and double the initial amount. In response, they are invited to “enter into the joy” of their master. But the third servant takes the treasure and literally buries it in the ground, rather than risk it. He tries to defend his inaction by claiming he was afraid of the master, but it doesn’t fly; nothing in the story says the master is anything other than trustworthy and generous. The story ends with this third servant rebuked and condemned.

Jesus is making several points about life in the Kingdom of God, including his desire that his followers would use the priceless gifts entrusted to them by God for bold and productive purposes. But the theme I come back to every time I read this parable is Jesus’ implicit warning about the danger of sins of omission. If we think it’s alright to do nothing with all that we have been given by God, if we think we can simply hide away in fear and trepidation and hope God doesn’t notice or care, we are wrong. “Those to whom much have been given,” Jesus tells us, “much will be required (Luke 12:48).”

Friends, we are the recipients of immeasurable gifts from God. We live in a free nation, where opportunity abounds. We get to feel sun on our faces and drink clean water from the tap and send our kids to free public school and take medicine for almost any ailment. God has trusted us just like the slaves in Jesus parable, and God wants to see what we do with it. Which is why we must not allow fear or apathy to cause us to forget our sacred responsibility to do something meaningful with our lives for the sake of others. That is, we must be on guard against sins of omission.

Friends, when we do nothing, we are not actually doing nothing. When we decide to bury our talent in the ground, we may think we’re just playing it safe or waiting for a more opportune moment, but we may actually be sinning. Because, according to Jesus, one of the greatest risks to our souls is the temptation to play it safe, to hide away in our comfortable suburban homes with our comfortable suburban lives and hope that the evils and injustices of the world will go away on their own. We run the risk of being so afraid of committing sins of commission – of doing something wrong, of offending someone – that we are piling up sins of omission on our souls.

So, what treasure has God entrusted you with? What opportunities are before you right now where you could put that “talent” to work for the Kingdom? It might be risky. It may take more courage than you think you even have. But Jesus promises to the faithful and bold, to the loving and just, an invitation to enter into the joy of our Master.

[1] I’m aware that, despite its popular association, this quote has no proven historical connection with the writings of Bonhoeffer. See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2016/08/25/the-popular-bonhoeffer-quote-that-isnt-in-bonhoeffers-works/