No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. [Isaiah 58:6-7 (NLT)]
Last week, a devotion I read asked, “What is the worst sin?” How would you answer it? While the “Seven Deadly Sins” (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth) are all wrong, I’m not sure they belong at the top of the list. Would it be idolatry, murder, stealing, or adultery? What about the heinous sins of mass murder, genocide, torture, or the abuse of children?
Of course, there’s “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” the unforgiveable sin mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 12 and Mark 3. While attributing the divine power of Jesus to Satan without repenting of it is unforgivable and was bad news for Pharisees to whom Jesus was speaking, since it hurts only the sinner, I don’t think it seems to be the worst sin either.
I pondered this question over coffee while the news was airing on TV. Richard Engle gave a report from an orphanage in Ukraine that left me in tears. When Ukraine became an independent country in 1991, it inherited a broken system in which parents of disabled children were encouraged to commit their children to institutional care. Sadly, in the absence of community-based support, therapy services, or educational opportunities, families continued to abandon severely disabled children to institutions. As a result, before the war, Ukraine had the largest number of children in institutional care in Europe; 100,000 children lived in 700 institutions.
Around half of those institutionalized children had special needs or disabilities and others were separated from their families because of poverty, addiction, or poor health; only a few actually were orphans. As these “orphanages” in war-torn eastern Ukraine were evacuated, their caregivers abandoned the most severely disabled to other institutions and fled. The remaining facilities are so overrun that day and therapy rooms have been converted into dormitories. They are overcrowded, understaffed, unequipped, and unable to provide anything but basic medical attention; as a result, proper care, stimulation, rehabilitation, and therapy can’t be provided and the residents’ conditions continue to deteriorate.
Engles’ report was about visiting such an institution that was packed with 200 profoundly disabled youngsters, all of whom were abandoned by their families. Some of the children, refugees from eastern Ukrainian institutions, were little more than skin and bones. These children (and others like them) are innocent victims of a broken system, a horrifying war, and a world that looked the other way. Could the worst of all sins be one of omission—that of not loving enough to see or care?
The question about the worst sin, however, was misleading. There is no “worst” sin because every sin is an affront to God. No sin is so small that it isn’t offensive to Him and deserving of punishment nor is there any sin so great that He can’t forgive it. Nevertheless, there can be a great difference in the earthly impact of our sins. While both are sins, a drug company’s lie about the safety of its pain medication has a vastly different impact than a child’s lie about taking a cookie from the jar. Without a doubt, what has happened to those Ukrainian children is a sin with devastating consequences for those involved.
When Jesus was asked the most important commandment, He answered “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” He continued with the second and equally important commandment of, “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Unfortunately, we don’t have to go to Ukraine to find the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters who are hungry, homeless, sick, alone, exploited, abused, or abandoned. While there is little we can do for those Ukrainian “orphans,” there is much we can do to alleviate the suffering of others who are “the least of these” here and now. May we love God and our neighbor enough to notice and to care!