Sins of Omission

Her name was Catherine “Kitty” Genovese (1935-1964). She was a 28-year-old bartender who lived in Kew Gardens, Queens, New York City. She died in the early hours of March 13, 1964. Her death was shocking at several levels. She was fatally stabbed by Winston Moseley (1934-2016). He took her life for one reason. He did not like women. He was a “misogynist.” He spent the rest of his life in prison for the crime, dying in 2016 at the age of 81. As shocking as that crime was, the reaction, or the lack of reaction, of her neighbors was even worse. Two weeks after the crime, The New York Times reported 38 people either witnessed or heard Kitty’s cries for help by no one responded. It is one of the most famous cases in the history of American sociology. In the science of sociology, it has been called the by- standers effect or diffusion of responsibility. Moseley was guilty of committing the crime. The neighbors were guilty of not preventing the crime. Any kind of sin should be taken seriously.

Sin can be grouped into two categories. The first category are the sins of commission. They are the sins we do that are contrary to the ways of God. On that list is lying, stealing, murder, gossip, judging, and the rest. Winston Moseley committed a sin of commission because he did it. The second category are the sins of omission. They are the things we should have done but we did nothing. The neighbors committed a sin of omission because they did nothing. My sins of commission upset me, but my sins of omission terrify me. What are you not doing that you should do? That takes us to the scripture lesson for today.

Today, we find ourselves in the sixth chapter of John, the first thirteen verses.Jesus had gathered a big crowd. The reason is simple. They had seen or heard about the miracles. Jesus had brought wholeness and health to the limited and the sick. Listen to what I am about to say. They had seen the miracles, but Jesus wanted them to experience more. The Master went to a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. From that high elevation, he saw the great number that were following him. Wanting to challenge the disciples, he looked at Phillip and said, “Where shall we buy bread for all these people to eat?” Phillip does the math and admits the funds are not available. It would take eight months wages to buy enough bread. He was right, yet he was wrong. Money was only one option. By the end of the day, everyone was satisfied, and the power of God was obvious. 

This story reminds us of two things. First, with God all things are possible. How else can you explain how Jesus took five barley loaves and two small fish and fed 5,000 people? It must be from God. There is no other option. Second, it reminds us that Jesus cared not just about the spiritual needs of people, the Master cared for their physical needs as well. He could have sent them away hungry, and no one would have cared. That leads us to an interesting question: how concerned about the needy of our world? As a disciple of Jesus Christ, you should care. Remember, you are supposed to be a little more like Jesus every day, so let me ask you these three questions.

Do you see others like Jesus? When Jesus looked out and saw the multitude surrounding him, he saw their need. They were hungry. Jesus knew they had to be fed because they did not have resources to feed themselves. Jesus did not just care about their spiritual needs, Jesus cared about their physical needs. He responded to their need. Do you see the needs of others, or do you look the other way? Do you ignore the needy? Would you have said about the 5,000, “They are fools! They should have known better. They should have packed their own lunch!” Do you see others like Jesus?

Do you feel other people’s pain like Jesus? One of the things we struggle with is the humanity of Jesus. We are much more comfortable with his divine side. In Matthew 9:36, it says Jesus had compassion on the crowd because they were harassed and helpless. Jesus had compassion on this crowd because they were hungry. Never underestimate the compassion of Jesus. Wikipedia, the online dictionary, and encyclopedia, defines compassion as the response to the suffering of others that motivates to help. Do you feel other people’s pain like Jesus? Perhaps this is a better question, how compassionate are you? Do you worry more about your family pet, or human beings? Do you look at people, or do you look through people? Do you feel other people’s pain like Jesus?

Do you act like Jesus? The Master had the power to feed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus used his power to respond to their need. We do not have the power to feed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. However, we do have the power to do something. What are you doing to help others? Are you doing nothing at all? What is the Holy Spirit calling you to do? Do you act like Jesus?

Kitty Genovese was crying out for help, but her neighbors did nothing. They were guilty of a sin of omission. I hope that is not our story. Our world is crying out for help but very few are responding. Our community is crying out for help but only a few are responding. It is not a matter of physical deafness. It is a matter of lack of caring. Do you care about the needy in our community, or are you too preoccupied with yourself? Jesus cared and responded. Are you going to respond, or do nothing at all? American educator Yasmin Mogahed (born 1980) once said, “Compassion is to look beyond your own pain, to the pain of other.”