Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against You and our neighbors, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
Lent is our special opportunity to devote time toward introspective admission of sin as we make room in our hearts for Christ through penance. Our faults, as we are becoming more aware of day by day, seem vast, nearly unending – in short, we are sinners through and through. There is nothing in our lives or in our individual being that is not touched by sin in some way. The time we have to patiently wait for the coming of Christ is fundamentally marked by sin. Whether in our social life, in our relations with other human beings, or in our individual lives, in the depths of our identities, we cannot escape the effects of sin.
This is a difficult reality to face. In our everyday lives, we are not usually aware of the extent of sin; yet, during Lent we are pressed to confront the reality of our sinfulness head on. There is no space in this season to whitewash the reality of our fallen world and the fault by which we are to blame for its condition.
Although we usually focus on wrong-doing, this only encapsulates one half of sin. In the opening prayer, we confessed that we have sinned by what we have left undone. We have failed to love God with all of our hearts and we have failed to extend this love to others. Irrespective of anything we have actively pursued through our actions, our sin extends further to what we have not done. We are not only beset by evil action, but by evil inaction as well.
We have so often refused to answer Christ’s call, “Follow Me!”
We would rather continue fishing or collecting taxes, so it would seem. Let us at least bury our own dead first, Jesus! Most of the time, Christ’s call to follow him goes unheeded. We might say that the cares of this world are too great, or that our time is too short. Leave me alone. Let me be.
And so, we bury our talents in the ground hoping to secure what we have thus far accumulated.
The grace of God in Christ calls us not only to repentance, but to action. We cannot stop at merely admitting our past faults, though that is a welcome start. Sin as sloth is not, because of its apparent emptiness, somehow lesser than our evil actions. In both senses, our sin is disobedience – first because we do what God does not want, and second, when we do not do what God wants. In a fundamental sense, however, sloth is the most basic form of sin because it is this very refusal to heed the call to follow Christ that sets us further down the path of active sin, rebellion, and idolatry.
Christians are called to action, to diligent action on behalf of the gospel. Focusing for a bit on our duty to love our neighbors, we can begin to see the intensity of the Gospel’s call on our lives.
You shall love your neighbor. This call is a personal one; it is directed to you – there is no escape. You shall love your neighbor. This call directs our attention to others, away from our own comfort. You shall love your neighbor. This call consists in the duty of an active pursuit – it is a demand, a joyful demand to extend God’s love.
In our sloth, we treat Christ’s call with indifference. We disobey God’s command to love others. We do not trust in Christ’s promise to those who actively follow his will. Chiefly, sloth expresses our refusal to give thanks for the gift of Christ. We demonstrate our own ingratitude toward what Christ has done and has called us to continue alongside him. Here then, our sloth results finally in our refusal to love God.
And so, we confess that we have sinned by what we have left undone.
What does God offer as the remedy to our slothful condition? The remedy lies chiefly in that which sloth refuses: the call, “Follow Me!” This call is not simply an arbitrary expression of what we ought to do. First and foremost, the call is a response to Christ’s person. It is Christ whom we are called to follow. “Follow Me!”
A call to follow is a call to imitate, to tag along if you will. In contrast to our sloth, we see in Christ the supreme example of God’s love in its diligent, ever-active expression.
“Christ, who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:6–8.
God, knowing our need for redemption, did not exhibit sloth – just the opposite, in fact. During Lent, we should recognize the incredible nature of the Incarnation. Although it has likely become a matter of simple affirmation, no longer connected to our sense of joy or wonder due to the sheer repetition of its presentation to us in Church, let us return to a childlike faith filled with awe at the humility through which God demonstrated love toward us.
In the Exodus story, too, we are confronted with God’s diligent activity on our behalf. God told Moses, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians.” Unlike the call whereby we are directed to follow Christ, our cries to God never go unheeded. We respond with slothful inactivity, God responds through redeeming acts of love.
God’s diligence, moreover, is superabundantly greater than the strength of our sloth. God upholds the world in its entirety in each and every moment of its existence. Were God to exhibit sloth, we would cease to exist. Our very being is held together by God’s sustaining grace. By following Christ in our situation today, we are called to imitate this active love toward others that God demonstrates in Christ: “Follow Me!”
Our lives are in the meantime marked by sin. Sloth is the chief expression of our mistrust, disbelief, and disobedience. When we confess these inactions of ours, we figuratively make room for God to come into our lives. May we allow this Lenten season to provide us with a more complete recognition of our sin, and so for our repentance to more fully express the reality of our slothful refusal to completely love God and others. As we liturgically prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ, let us not lose sight of the hope which is ours: God’s diligence, in redeeming acts throughout history and the sustaining grace that gives us every breath we take, is always actively demonstrating God’s unconditional love for all of creation. “We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”
And so finally, we close just as we have begun: looking to our most merciful Lord and Savior, acknowledging our sin.
We confess that we have sinned against You and our neighbors, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
This post originally appeared in Emily Bricker’s “Voices of Lent” Reflection series