Living the Questions: Where is Your Brother?

Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’
He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ – Genesis 4:9

When I was a kid, my younger brother went over to the neighbor’s house to play Sega Genesis (the cool, new, far-superior-to-our-Super-Nintendo video game system). My mom came up to me and asked if I had seen where my brother went and I — in my defiant 11-year-old wisdom — shot back with a “How am I supposed to know? I’m not his babysitter!” Defiance of the older brother at its best.

This defiance is the crux of Cain’s argument with God. Not only did he kill his brother because of the anger issues previously discussed. But then when God, knowing full well what Cain has done, asks him about it, he gives an indifferent I don’t know and then essentially says, “What am I, his babysitter?”

In 2010, there were just shy of 15,000 homicides in the United States. That’s 4.8 murders per 100,000 people. Most of the industrialized world has a murder rate somewhere around 1.3 murders per 100,000 people. For some reason, America has a pretty unhealthy obsession with killing each other. Here’s the astonishing thing… only 14% of those murder victims didn’t know the person who killed them.

That means that 86% of all murder victims know the person that killed them. It seems like we have a problem with being our brother’s keeper.

The story of Cain and Abel couldn’t have more to do with our modern situation. I don’t always appreciate the limitations of dualistic thinking, but it comes down to this, when God asks “Where is your brother?” what’s being probed is this very question: Do you practice a heart of protection or a heart of destruction? Are your actions merciful or hardhearted? Do they enhance or diminish another’s dignity? 

The community that we’re called to is beyond our family. For those of you who don’t have brothers, you may look at this and say “I don’t have a brother so my brother is nowhere.” If you’re thinking that, I hate to say it but you’re kind of missing the point.

The Gospel of Luke says that Jesus had a conversation with a lawyer about eternal life. Jesus affirmed the man’s answer that loving God completely and one’s neighbor were at the core of what it means to be truly alive. But the man wanted make sure that he was doing absolutely everything he had to do (he is a lawyer after all). So he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells the lawyer a story of a crime victim in the ditch alongside the interstate. Two very respectable community leaders drive past him and do nothing. They are not evil or malicious people. But at that moment in time, they lack mercy. Then a third person comes by. She’s from another country. Maybe she was in that country illegally. It was this foreigner who stopped and showed compassion for the victim, binding his wounds, medicating them, and taking the man to an ER and paying the bill for him.

Jesus then turns the question back around on the lawyer and, like God to Cain, says, “Who is the neighbor?” The lawyer answers, “The one who shows mercy.” And Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” 

“Where is your brother?”

“Who is my neighbor?”

These are both questions about how we relate to those around us. Do we act with grace and love or do we act with jealousy and anger?

Are we most often like the Good Samaritan? Or are we most often like Cain?

Where is your brother? Where is your sister? Where are those in need of protection? Where are those who need mercy? And what are you doing to protect them?

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