My Brother’s Keeper?

Author: Pastor Don McFarlane
February 21, 2019

I grew up with my cousin, Cecil, who was more of a brother than a cousin. We were good together; we were bad together. We fished together; we fought together. In our village we  were known as Danny and Cecil. When I visit my village nowadays, I have to use the term, Danny and Cecil, for some to be able to identify me as one of the two boys who lived at William McPherson’s house.

Cecil and I were the closest of friends, except when it came to meal time. As young boys, each of us watched to see how much food the other was given. If he felt that I was given more food than he was, he would show his displeasure, violently at times.  If I felt that he was given more food than I was, a tear often would well up in the corner of my eye (I was never one for drama). We were always checking to see if one was treated better than the other by the adults. It was clear that my grandfather preferred Cecil, because he was nimbler and more agile than I was. He could climb a tall coconut tree in seconds, a feat that I never tried. But I was my grandmother’s favorite, in that I could read her letters to her and help in the house. I guess our grandparents balanced out each other on the favoritism scale.

Cain, in the book of Genesis, seems to have had a major problem with favoritism or preferential treatment. Once when he and his brother, Abel, presented an offering to God, Abel’s was accepted and Cain’s rejected (Gen. 4: 1-9). Cain saw that as preferential treatment and murdered his brother in a fit of rage. When Asked by God to account for his slain brother, Cain exclaimed, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain was not suggesting that he was his brother’s keeper. Nor was he asking God if he was expected to be his brother’s keeper. He was actually asserting that he did not care about his brother and that he should not be expected to be his brother’s keeper.

How did such an evasive question by Cain become such an all-embracing answer - I am my brother’s keeper. But can we really be our Brother’s Keeper? In 2014 President Obama launched the “I am My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, designed to empower young men and boys of color. That was laudable on the part of our former president. Similarly, the actions of those who donate to a food bank, give a dollar or twenty to a panhandler, help an elderly woman cross the road and feed the homeless are also laudable.  Such people are all to be admired for wanting to be their brother’s keeper. In this time of rampant inhumanity of man to man it is heartening to know that many rush to be their brother’s keeper. 

But, what does it mean to be my brother’s keeper or my sister’s keeper? An understanding from scripture of what a keeper really is helps us to appreciate that the best of us are really poor keepers, that we do not have the band-width or the resources to truly keep our brother or our sister. This Sabbath, February 23, at Sligo Church, I will be unpacking what it means to be a keeper in a sermon titled, “My Brother’s Keeper?” Don’t despair; we have a Keeper! 

Don McFarlane

7700 Carroll Ave |  Takoma, MD 20912