Whoever loves his brother and/or sister lives in the light… 1 John 2:10 (NIV)
Whoever Loves His Brother – Keepers – Series 1 – Part 1
(Go to Series 2)
Am I my brother's keeper?
Could there be a more provocative question in all of the scriptures? It was Cain who first uttered this question-more-like-a-statement after God asked where his recently murdered little brother was. But its sentiments were repeated throughout scripture many times in many different ways right up to the moment where this almost equally famed question was put forth:
And who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:29)
Questions of connectivity are at the heart and soul of humanities greatest joys, and it’s darkest crimes. It didn’t take long into our existence for the question to surface, either.
The story goes that after Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden, they had two sons: Cain and Abel. Cain grew to be a farmer of produce, and Abel, a farmer of livestock. Cain brought an offering to God, and so did Abel. But God rejected Cain’s sacrifice and blessed Abel’s. Which didn’t go over too well with Cain. Sometime later, he took his younger brother out to a field and killed him. Then God showed up and asked:
“Where is your brother Abel?”
To which Cain replied:
“I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper?”
It seems as though this story is about sibling rivalry, jealousy, and the capacity to show up to God with an acceptable sacrifice. And while those ideas are addressed in this tale, it goes much deeper than that. You’ll find the particulars in Genesis 4, but you’ll also find this story at your workplace, at your school, in your family and street and town and city and country. You’ll find that you can read it of the pages of your own heart, too.
“Am I responsible for anyone other than myself? Who is my neighbour? Am I my brothers/sisters keeper?”
Because these questions reveal something deeper at the heart of us that drives the tone of our asking.
Desire, control, and connection. Our urge and innate, instinctual hunger to create, to have security, and to be seen and known and loved.
Sometimes, one of these things will dominate the others, tipping the balance out of whack, allowing one to rise above, creating the perfect scenario for a brother to kill his younger sibling.
This isn’t really a story about sacrifice. Perhaps like me, you’ve heard this story told more times than you count as a warning to bring the right sacrifice before God. If God rejects you, who knows what that kind of rejection will do to your heart and soul! Sin crouches at the door… right?
Cain was never asked to bring a sacrifice. If that was an important part of the story, it would be in it.
In pure entrepreneur form, Cain is the first living human recorded as bringing an offering to God.
This story is about why. Why did Cain feel the need to give the almighty, all knowing, creative God, a gift? Was God in need? And then, why did God reject Cain’s ingenious gift? Cain's actions spurred Abel to bring a gift, too. One that unlike Cain’s was accepted and honored. And then why kill over it? Was his jealousy that strong?
It’s also a story that teaches us, especially we who hale from Pentecostalism, the function of Hebrew literature and storytelling (not that I’m an expert by any means. I am a mere amateur and beginner in such things. But I hope to whet your appetite to learn more).
Things aren’t always as they appear at first glance, and from one story, you can pull a multitude of meaning.
So, where do we start?
“Whoever loves his brother and/or sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.” 1 John 2:10 (NIV).
Let’s start with that.
Written by Liz Milani