Continuing on through the book of Genesis, I will jump to chapter 4. Here, we see humanity moving further away from the utopian garden setting that God had created. Things quickly take a turn for the worst following the offerings that Cain and Abel brought to the Lord. Let’s pick it up in verse 8:
Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the LORD said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”
I think what strikes me most about this passage is not the sudden decline of humanity to this spiteful level (Cain and Abel were after all the children of Adam and Eve. . . . They were not that far removed from the garden themselves), but rather God’s response to Cain when asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Instead of emphatically and probably more clearly shouting yes, God answers by saying that Abel’s blood cries out from the ground. What gets me is the idea that we can never be at peace unless those around us are also at peace. Because we as humans are so intimately connected to one another, we can never truly feel at home if there is a homeless man at the end of the block. We can never really feel full if we pass by the beggars outside of the supermarket. And we can never truly feel the warmth of our fireplace knowing that there are people sleeping in cardboard boxes in -20 degree weather. Just the other day I read an article about the increasing homeless population in Aspen, Colorado. Here we are, in a posh, gaudy ski resort town, where money is more common than water in the ocean, and there are homeless people just trying to survive. Something seems to be wrong with this picture.
Thomas Merton once wrote, “A happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found: for a happiness that is diminished by being shared is not big enough to make us happy.” There’s something deep within us whispering that we are indeed our brother’s keeper. Jesus echoes this in his telling of the story of the Good Samaritan. Because of our intimate longing for relationship, specifically with other humans, the only way we can truly find peace is when our neighbor has piece. May we be the keepers of our brothers and sisters, whether that means the homeless man begging for food, our alcoholic co-worker, or the shut-in down the street.