I am not my brother's keeper but ...

United Methodist Church lay speaker discusses the story Cain and Abel

Posted: Friday, October 03, 2008

In the early days of radio, my father bought one of the first Atwater Kents. On Sunday afternoons, we listened to some very dramatic presentations of Biblical stories, usually serialized. They were so well done that I can still see some of them in my mind.

After a very impressive dramatization of the Cain and Abel sacrifices, where Abel's was accepted and Cain's was not, Cain invited Abel to go out into the fields with him. They were walking along in the fields, when, with buildup of ominous music, the announcer's voice broke in: "Will Cain kill Abel? Tune in again next week at this same time ... ."

Fortunately, we have the book, we have read the story, and we know how it came out. Or do we? Yes, Cain did kill Abel, but I'm not sure we know the whole story. When the Lord asked Cain where Abel was, he answered, "How should I know? Am I my brother's keeper?" Is it possible, however, that it was Abel who first asked this question?

Look at the story again. God did not say, "I don't like the fruits and vegetables you brought me."

He said: "If you do well, you can hold up your head - but if not, sin will master you." The offering, as usual, was symbolic of something else, and evidently, Cain was not measuring up in his life.

Is it not possible that Abel, seeing this, and knowing what was acceptable to God, had said to himself, "I'm not my brother's keeper," when he might have tried to help his brother to know and understand as he understood?

What, then, might this say to us? For 2,000 years we have had the word of Jesus that all people are neighbors. We have Jesus' commandment that we love one another, even our enemies. We continue to observe Human Relations Sunday and Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Sunday in our churches. But we continue to also have prejudice, discrimination and misunderstandings.

Now I have myself in a spot. Here I am, trying to prove that I am my brother's keeper, and that's not what I meant to do.

Sometimes the way we go about it is wrong. Unfortunately, brotherly love is sometimes hard to take. I believe it has been amply demonstrated that you can love your neighbor in such a way as to make him hate you. Have you ever experienced love that was a little hard to bear? ("I'm doing this because I love you?")

Believe it or not: our brothers don't want keepers! They want brothers - and sisters. That brings me to my punch line: I am not my brother's keeper. I am my brother's brother - or sister.

I do believe that we have made great strides toward the goal of brotherhood. But always there is room for more understanding, more commitment, more love.

More Christian love. Toyohiko Kagawa, who experienced all this - and more - living as a Christian in Tokyo's slums most of his life, said: "Such a religion as is merely preached by mouth and heard by outer ears will soon be denied. The genuine gospel is the religion which is preached by love." "Love," he said, "has the fusing power of the sun beaming upon ice."

Kagawa said that he had started a movement which could be joined by anyone. He called it the Love-Your-Neighbor-Movement. "If we commit ourselves to living in this spirit, our lives will be fruitful. All that is required of us is to help our neighbors whosoever they be."

I think one of the best things each one of us can do, is to start our own love-your-neighbor movement, and to say often to ourselves: "I am not my brother's keeper, but by the love and grace of God, and whether he wants it or not, I am my brother's brother or sister."

You are my brother! You are my sister! I hope you like it! I know I do.

• Bea Shepard is a lay speker in the United Methodist Church and a member of the Douglas Community United Methodist Church.

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