My Brother’s Keeper

February 10th, 2023

 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field”. While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know”, he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Genesis 4:8-9

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Luke: 10:25-29

Above are two questions that have echoed through the centuries. Cain and the pharisee are alike in that they are both asking a question for which they already have an answer. They are just hoping to get a different one. They know that they bear some responsibility for the wellbeing of other people, but they want to know where they can draw the line. How much responsibility or how little?

The two questions are found in the Bible, but they are applicable to any person regardless of religious belief. They were pertinent twenty centuries ago, and they are relevant now. The people who wrote down these sections from the Bible lived in cultures that had strict rules concerning what each individual owed to his or her community, whether that community was their family or their tribe or their nation. In our own culture the guidance is not so clear.

In our day and age, who is my brother or sister? Who is my neighbor? Am I required to help only family members? Are my neighbors just the folks who live nearby? What about people who speak a different language or have a different skin color? Am I obliged to assist only those who share my beliefs? Do I need to care about people who live far away in distant lands?

A few weeks ago, there was a devastating earthquake on the border of Turkey and Syria. My wife, Karin, and I know a young man, Hussein, who is from a family of Syrian refugees. His family lives in the local area, but they have many relatives living in southern Turkey. These members of Hussein’s extended family have suffered enormously from the earthquake. Some of his relatives have died, and others have lost their homes. Karin and I gave Hussein as much money as we could spare to send to his relatives in Turkey. Why did we do that? Are these people in Turkey our neighbors? Is Hussein my brother?

I have a friend, who I know from the synagogue. He has a son who served in the Soviet Army and fought in Afghanistan in 1983. The man’s son was the sole survivor of an IED explosion. For forty years, my friend’s son has suffered from PTSD and alcohol abuse. My friend confides in me, partly because I have a son who fought in Iraq and came back damaged. He understands that I understand.

My friend asks very little of me. He only wants me to listen to him. The man worries constantly about his son. He has watched his boy struggle for four decades. My friend tells me about his son every time we meet. He always tells me the story of his son’s troubles, and he often repeats himself. That is not a problem for me. My friend needs to express his suffering. That eases his pain. I listen to him, and I suffer along with him.

My friend is Jewish, and I am Catholic. My friend is much older than I am. He is from Kyiv, and I am from Milwaukee. His mother tongue is Ukrainian, and mine is English. In some ways, we are very different.

I love him anyway.

He is my brother. He is my neighbor.

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