If you ever need proof that our sins of omission are as bad as or worse than any sins we commit, look no further than humanity’s reaction to Nazi Germany. History has judged those who let the Holocaust happen as no better than those who ignited it.
One of the best descriptions of such passive evil came out of the study of that period–after political theorist Hannah Arendt witnessed the 1961 trial of Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann. She ascribed the birth and growth of Nazi Germany to “the banality of evil.” Those in power were just “following orders,” after all. Don’t we in 21st century cultures trap ourselves into thinking that just because everyone is doing something that was once considered evil, it’s no longer evil? Or even worse, that because nobody stops evil from happening, it must not be evil? Sounds like how sheep behave. Follow the crowd.
Judging by this Sunday’s mass readings for The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, though, a good shepherd discriminates between scattered sheep and goats. In such a situation, sheep are preferable because they are more herdable than rams. Rams are more likely to stay separate from the herd to pursue their own path. Under the guidance of a GOOD shepherd, the obedience of sheep WOULD be preferable to the unpredictability of rams—hence the judgment meted out by the Godly Shepherd described by the Prophet Ezekiel in Sunday’s first reading (EZ 34:11-12, 15-17):
As for you, my sheep, says the Lord GOD, I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.
So how do we judge which shepherd to follow? How do we know a good shepherd from a bad one? The goal of the good shepherd isn’t control and extermination, but collective survival of the sheep WITH the Shepherd, as Paul implies in Sunday’s second reading (1 COR 15:20-26, 28):
When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.
And how will a bad sheep be judged? As those Nazi enablers we mentioned at the start, as much for what they DIDN’T do as for what they DID. We know this from Matthew’s account of his master’s separation of the goats from his sheep (MT 25:31-46):
‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’
We know from Christ’s beatitudes the souls he deemed “Blessed” are the ones who commit their lives to others while the cursed omit themselves from others’ lives.