It is possible to share in the guilt of another’s sin even if we have not committed the sinful act ourselves. There are nine ways this can be done:
1. Counsel: Giving advice or direction to the evil-doer;
2. Command: Ordering or inducing another to commit sin;
3. Consent: approving of the sin, before or after its act;
4. Provocation: Inciting or urging one to commit sin;
5. Praise or flattery: Inciting or urging one to commit sin by praise;
6. Concealment: helping one to commit sin by offering to conceal the crime;
7. Partnership: Sharing the fruits of another’s sin;
8. Silence: Not speaking out when we should, or not acting to prevent sin when obliged;
9. Defending evil: Attempting to justify the evil actions of others.
– The Roman Missal, 1962
Few things are more dangerous than a teaching that is out of context. This list, for example, is commonly used for the Eucharist, as an examination of one’s conscience. But in recent years, I’ve heard Christians advice against behaviors and actions that could be an accessory so the sins of others. But I have seen this list out of context – used to explain how people that don’t stop their friends from committing sin are just as guilty of that sin themselves. I think it should have originally been written: ‘nine ways to be an accessory to grace’ and emphasized the forgiveness that is in store for believers no matter the circumstances of what they did wrong.
What I worry about most is that Christians will think about these things foremost instead of the things that Jesus taught them. Thinking back to the story of the Good Samaritan, I wonder: “Why didn’t the first two passers-by come to the wounded man’s aid?” Was their errand of so much importance that it over-ruled his needs? Or did they perceive that they would be sinning in some way were they to render assistance? Considering some believers think nothing of it to refuse to feed anyone who is hungry because of a perceived sin – I think there’s a real risk of that.
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
To have mercy is to not cause or allow harm to come to another. To have mercy is to show forgiveness or compassion, especially toward those less fortunate. To have mercy is to have tendency toward forgiveness, pity, or compassion. Christians have been shown mercy and we should show mercy as our first reaction; not guilt or condemnation. We even have a parable for that – the Unmerciful Servant.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
One thing we might not have realized was that in the ancient world, people who were born with disabilities or became disabled were viewed as having sinned or their parents having sinned. Jesus never interrogated them as to the nature of their sin. He forgave them and he healed them. “Go and sin no more.” “Your sins are forgiven.” That’s why I think the emphasis ought to be on ways to be an accessory to grace.