Am I My Brother’s Keeper?
In the Bible, Genesis 4 tells us about Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve who brought offerings to God. Cain was very upset because God accepted Abel’s offering but not his. Cain approached his brother later in the fields and killed him. When God asked Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
How do you answer that question? Are we responsible for others? Where can we find the answer to that dilemma?
Society tells us that that we need to mind our own business. We cannot be responsible for the actions of others. We should not get involved and when we do, we could be labeled a “snitch”. That just sounds bad, right? When I was younger, the term was “tattle-tale” and then “narc”. All those terms have a negative connotation and seems to imply the snitch is betraying a confidence which was trusted to them. The terms were created to cover the sinful deeds being committed to pass the shame to the informer.
There are two sides to this idea based on the purpose of sharing the information. Will sharing the information bring evil against someone or will it stop evil from continuing? Judas Iscariot was an informant against an innocent man, Jesus of Nazareth. He was being paid money to betray our Lord. Judas was bringing evil against another. In the book of Esther, Mordecai overheard a plot to kill the king. He informed Queen Esther who shared it with the king which stopped an evil deed from occurring.
Who is a snitch? Was Judas? The Disciples would say so but would the Romans? The men intending to assassinate the king would claim Mordecai was a snitch but would Esther? Has it become that difficult to determine good from evil today?
We have a responsibility to God for other people. “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it…” (I Corinthians 12:26) “The commandments ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:9-10)
Cain questioned God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain was avoiding responsibility. “Keeper” in Hebrew is the word “shamar”. This same word is found in Genesis 2 to describe what Adam’s role was in the Garden of Eden and in Genesis 3 for the responsibility of the Cherubims in the garden to “keep the way of the tree of life” after the fall of Adam and Eve. Shamar means to guard, watch over and to protect—it is not a wimpy term. I believe Cain already knew the answer, but he also received it through punishment by God.
Way Maker had a resident that was sneaking out of the residence late at night to meet up with a woman at her home. He would leave and ride a bicycle to her home, stay for a couple of hours and then ride back. He would sneak back in before the others would wake up, pretending as if no rules were being broken. Another resident informed staff that this was going on because he genuinely feared for the guy’s life. He told staff that he would not be able to live with himself if something happened to him while out on a bicycle in the dark at those late hours. The resident did not share this information because he was trying to gain favor with staff or wanted to see the guy get into trouble or thrown out of the house. He told us out of love for his neighbor. This guy’s housemate was being his brother’s keeper.
We at Way Maker believe this is one of the purposes of a Christian recovery residence. “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2) “You my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
How can we all be our brother’s keeper? The Bible gives us numerous examples.
- Care for widows and orphans. Exodus 22:22, Isaiah 1:17, James 1:27
- Care for immigrants. Leviticus 19:33-34
- Care for the disabled. Deuteronomy 27:18
- Honor the poor. James2:9, Proverbs 17:5
- Give the poor economic assistance. Leviticus 25:37, 19:10, Deuteronomy 15:7-8, Exodus 22:25
- Give food, clothing, and shelter to the needy. Ezekiel 18:7, Luke 3:11, Luke 12:33
When you consider how much need there is in the world, it can seem like a task too big to tackle. God does not expect us to do it all. He does call us to do something…
Love your neighbor as yourself and be your brother’s keeper.
Founder and Director
Way Maker, Inc.