Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"The Seven Deadlies: Accidia"

Matthew 25: 14-30

Proverbs: 10:4; 12:24;13:4; 20:4; 21:25

      We return this morning to our exploration of the so-called seven deadly sins.  So far, we have

covered the sins – or as has been suggested, deadly attitudes which underlie sins – of pride, greed,

envy, gluttony and anger.  This morning, we come to what might be considered the featherweight

of the seven deadlies: accidia; the Latin word we translate sloth.  Every time I hear “sloth,” I think of

that odd critter Stephanie introduced us to in the Children’s Chat which appears to spend its life just

hanging out and snoozing in the trees of the tropical rainforest, seemingly without a care in the

world.  We might be tempted to breeze by this supposedly deadly sin.  After all, how often do we

seriously worry about slumbering ourselves to death.  But the implication of this deadly sin goes far

deeper than over-resting.

      A New Testament lesson which seems to be the poster child for sloth comes in the form of a

parable of Jesus.  Matthew includes it as part of Jesus’ broader teaching about His future return to

fully establish His Kingdom.  Listen to this story of the slaves and talents.

          (Read Matthew 25:14-30)

      Most people tend to equate sloth with laziness; not doing much of anything, opting instead to

just hang out.  When we think of sloth, our mind’s eye conjures up images of the great American

couch potato who lies around all day in front of the TV munching Doritos and swigging Budweiser.

That’s a safe approach as few people -- and even fewer Christians -- see themselves in this sort of

light.  Such an understanding of sloth would be diametrically opposite the virtue of industry; that is,

being busy.  It is true that laziness may very well be the presenting symptom of an underlying attitude of sloth.

  But I would suggest that sloth and laziness are not synonymous.  In fact, sloth is often buried beneath

a flurry of busyness.  If there is a single word which is most descriptive of sloth, it might be the word apathy. 

This doesn’t necessarily imply a lack of activity, but rather a lack of interest; concern; feeling; passion;

kind of just going through the motions.  We’ve all worked or

interacted with people who are constantly on the go, but could really care less where or for what

they are going.  In reality, their busyness or perceived attentiveness sometimes serves as an excuse

or cover for the things they could or should be doing, but are not.

      Such was the case of the slave in the parable whom the master called “wicked and lazy.”  Note

that the force of the Greek word ok/nay/ray, which is translated “lazy,” carries the root meaning of

indolence; without effort; without pain; without sacrifice. The first two slaves, who were given in

turn “five talents” and “two” talents, worked with what they had to bring out of it the fullest

potential.  The third slave who was given the single talent put forth no such effort.  He was busy all

right: digging a hole in which to hide what the master had invested in him; then unearthing it upon

the master’s return.  He tried to butter up the boss in justifying why he had done nothing with the

talent.  But the master saw right through him.  The bottom line is that unlike his two fellow slaves

who showed interest, concern, feeling, even passion, the “wicked and lazy slave” really couldn’t

have cared less.  He busied himself running the route of least resistance; avoiding the cost and burden

of his responsibility as steward of his master’s property.  He was less about lazy, and more

about apathy.  To boil it down, sloth is about not giving it all, or giving much of anything.  And from

the perspective of this parable, Jesus makes it clear that the old adage we use today has always

applied: No pain. No gain. No effort. No reward.  More to the parable’s sharp point: No pain. All lost.

     So what might sloth look like in real time beyond the simple act of being lazy?  An example might

be that parent who sends the children to bed early every night so he or she can have lots of quiet  

 time to play video games, or watch television, or do whatever it is they like to do after hours.  If they

really wanted, they could let the children stay up a little later and play a game with them, or read a

book.  Instead, they choose the parenting route of least resistance, and least effort.  Or maybe that

parent always tells their children “No” without taking the time and trouble to explain why not, because

it’s a whole lot easier.  I know I’ve been guilty of that one.  Slothful parent I’ve been, rather

than sitting down and communicating with my children, I just snapped, “Because I said so.”  These

are not necessarily descriptive of an irresponsible parent; just a parent who, in a manner of

speaking, takes the easier way. 

      Another example could be someone who is active in a political, social or religious movement who

doesn’t go to the trouble or through the hard work of reading about or listening seriously to other

positions, or to critiques of their own position; and so never questions whether their position might

be right or wrong.  They just go along with the party line or the religious dogma for the sake of simplicity

and expediency.  As a result, for all the placards they carry, or tee shirts they wear, or leaflets they hand out,

they could be inadvertently supporting some very wrong beliefs such as racism, or misogyny, or Xenophobia,

or nationalism, or separatism, or segregation, or worse, all because they didn’t have the passion or wherewithal

for putting in the hard work of seeking and finding the truth before signing on the dotted line.  

      There may be that student who naturally picks everything up with very little effort.  But instead

of learning more than is required, or assisting others who are struggling, or doing some extracurricular work,

they opt to just sit around playing XBox, or snap chatting, or wandering in cyberspace; not because any of this

is informative or somehow helps their or someone else’s growth as a person, but because they just don’t care to do much else. 

      In business and industry, some leaders never hassle themselves by checking into laws and regulations to

see if their company is engaging in legal and ethical business practices, or properly valuing and caring for employees,

or being environmentally responsible.  Instead, they take the easier route of arguing that “We’ve always done it that

way and never had a problem;” the route of status quo, and of systemic injustice.

      For Christians who profess to be Bible-believing people, we sometimes don’t really want to know

what the Bible or the church teaches about some issue or behavior.  So we may avoid the hard work

of reading, asking and praying about it.  We voice the easy route:  The Bible’s just too hard to understand. 

Sloth could very well be the reason so many Christians don’t seek out and read good,

spiritually-challenging works, like the Bible itself; like the great classic and modern theologians and

commentators; opting instead for Christian fiction, or some odd Gnostic writings.  These may tickle

our ears and imaginations, but never call us to action: loving our neighbor; caring for the sick;

helping the poor; pursuing justice for those unjustly treated; struggling with the nitty gritty issues of

faith.  What this describes is not an unfaithful Christian; just a Christian who takes the easier way.

      There is an outcome of chronic sloth.  And spiritually-speaking, it is deadly indeed.  Over time,

the effusive joy which characterizes folk who live with passion, purpose and fire in their bellies is displaced by

a lack of passion, lack of purpose, and a fire burning down to barely-glowing embers. 

    The early monastics, or monks, whose passion and zeal was to be in full communion with God, are

recorded to have often fallen into a spiritual state of tiredness, apathy and despair.  This phenomenon was

first identified among the monks in the Egyptian desert as “noonday demon.” Instead of finding fulfillment

in their calls to lives of study and contemplation, as the afternoons of each day wore on, the monks

became joyless and listless.  John Cassian, a 4th century Roman monk himself, had a word for this phenomenon

which was actually a predecessor to the deadly sin of sloth.  The fifth deadly sin was originally tristia, which in

Latin means “sadness.”  In this light, sloth is more than mere apathy.  It is an apathy folded in with melancholy;

a true deadening of a once alive and vibrant spirit.

     I’d like to wrap up this message on sloth, first with words penned by medieval theologian Thomas

Aquinas; then with a passage from the modern “Pocket Catholic Catechism.”

      Aquinas wrote this in his “Summa Theologiae”:  “Sloth is sluggishness of the mind and numbness

of the spirit which neglects to begin good…. [It] is evil in its effect, if it so oppresses a {person} as to

draw {them} away entirely from good deeds, and its every good toil applied, and from delight in

serving {their} God.”

      Most of us here this morning are not Roman Catholic, but here are some words of wisdom from

our Catholic friends which are well-worth hearing:  “Sloth is simply the desire for ease, even at the

expense of failing to do the known will of God.  Whatever we do in life requires effort.  Everything we

do is to be a means of salvation.  The slothful person is unwilling to do what God wants because of

the effort it takes to do it.  Sloth becomes a sin when it slows down and even brings to a halt the

energy we must expend in using the means to salvation.”

      I suppose the Lord created the critter we’ve named sloth to hang out and snooze in the trees.

The Lord created us for so much more.  So let’s not be a sloth.

Lord, grant us energy to apply ourselves to being the best we can be – as parents, as employers

and employees, as students, as Christian disciples, as those trying to be a positive force in this

world of Yours.  May Christ be glorified through our intent and our industry.  Amen.