Am I my brother’s keeper? The question keeps coming up, though mostly indirectly. At a men’s breakfast Bible study this past Saturday, the verse popped up again at the beginning of the session.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9
When looking at the biblical mandate for serving the poor, this verse is unlikely to make the list of Scripture references, but I hope you can make the connection. In the next few minutes, I hope to convince you we should include the text! Beyond that, I have no further goal. While I would like to claim these words might alter your desire to serve the least, the lost, and the lonely, how that looks in your life is between you and God.
Jesus summed up the entire Law in one rather simple statement: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. In my very biased opinion, this makes us our brother’s keeper.
The concept is simple, but how that looks in our lives is beautifully complex. Let me offer a musical example. Years ago, I was helping a youth group with a production that included a choreographed piece based on a popular song by Lecrae. It seemed simple enough: remove the vocal track from the mix to let the group fill in their part. I have professional software at my disposal, but I wasn’t able to lift the vocals without destroying the underlying music. My solution was to recreate the soundtrack, without the vocals. Mimicking a published song should be easy. The artist made all the decisions in his process of writing and recording the piece. All I had to do was listen and copy the parts.
What I discovered blew me away. I put in the essential rhythm parts and the central theme, but it sounded thin and hollow, so I listened closer to Lecrae’s masterpiece. I found layer after layer of nuances that had to be present to support the theme. Each part by itself was subtle, unnoticeable except for those who took the time to listen carefully to the song. Every element was precisely placed to complement the other. The more I zoomed in, the more I found. The beautiful thing was this: when I stepped back to listen to the original song from a distance, I had an entirely new perspective. And it was more beautiful than ever before.
Each of us plays a part in the dramatic life we’ve been given. It may be difficult for us to hear every little piece, but God sees it all. He is continually working to add an element here or there to make the song complete.
The idea works across all types of creative works. The painter creates her masterpiece one layer at a time, adding subtle hues and highlights. The symphonic composer considers how and when each instrument plays its part with a lot of rests in between. We might learn something in that concept alone.
Yes, my friend, I am my brother’s keeper, and so are you.
But just like the verse that followed Jesus’ summary of the Law, you might be tempted to ask, who is my brother? I’m posing this question much like the expert in the law that asked Jesus in Luke 10:25-37, the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I know the story that prompted Cain’s response was his attempt to coverup the murder of his brother Able, and I’m not elevating everything we do to murder. What I read in this story is that God cares about each of us; therefore, we should care too. Let me make this a bit more challenging.
Consider two brothers. One is wealthy. He is incredibly successful in business to the point that he has more money than he could spend, but has no relationship with Jesus. He’s kind enough, but his whole life is all about making money. The second brother either finds himself in jail, homeless shelters or on the street. He’s easy-going and the first to admit his mistakes. Like the first brother, you have no idea about his spiritual state. Both call you to meet for lunch. Who gets the appointment?
The expert in the law wanted Jesus to define who his neighbor was so he could comply with a direct command, another rule. But Jesus’ answer paints a picture rather than provides a checklist. In other words, we must live a life based on loving as God demonstrates throughout the Bible.
When I read through the Bible today, I’m looking specifically for words that help me learn how to get better at loving God and loving neighbors as myself. I turned back to the beginning, and suddenly scripture that I had never associated with the Greatest Commandment jumps out at me. How about you? Do you see the connection now? The 4th chapter in the Bible asks the question in my mind, but it’s not even the first reference. Take a look at chapter 3 for yourself. Then continue forward through the history of our Jewish ancestors and see how God is adding notes, dabs of paint, moments of silence, and words of wisdom throughout history. It’s all right there in plain sight, yet so hard to see at times.
Lord, we need your eyes to see our brother the way you see him; to love our sister the way you love her. I pray that you reveal this kind of love as we read your word so that we would become men and women of action rather than scholars that teach. May we become our brother’s keeper.