As I continue to look at scripture’s most compelling questions, I want to look at two very famous questions in scripture, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. Both of these questions are asked with a similar purpose, and neither turns out to be the “right” question. Before I get to that one, here are these two questions:

Am I my brother’s keeper?Genesis 4:9

Who is my neighbor?Luke 10:29

Both of these questions are the wrong questions, because they are asked to avoid doing what they know is right, or to defend doing what they know is wrong.

The first question is asked by Cain, after he killed his Abel, when the Lord asked Cain where his brother was. Here is a little more of that story:

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?”

Genesis 4:8-9

The truth is that Cain does know where Abel is – exactly where he left his dead body. And even if he is not his brother’s keeper, he should at least not be his brother’s murderer! It is a sad story that shows us the power of sin and jealousy, and the ways in which it can divide families and communities. 

We are, in fact, called to be our brother’s keeper, to bear one another’s burdens, and to love our neighbor as our self. In the second question, we have another instance of someone trying to avoid this truth. Here is a little more of this story:

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10:25-29

Jesus answers this question by telling the famous Parable of the Good Samaritan, a story showing us that our neighbor is not just the person who lives near us, who is our friend, but very often someone who is very different from us. Our neighbor is anyone in need. And, on the other hand, when we are in need, we can’t afford to be picky about who helps us!

Let me share one more famous question from scripture that all of this brings to mind, which you might think of as the “right” question, and this question is from Matthew’s Gospel: 

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?’” – Matthew 25:37

And if you remember this story, you remember the answer to this question: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” – Matthew 25:40

Who is my neighbor? “One of the least of these.” Anyone and everyone in need. And when we help our neighbor in need, it is as though we are helping Christ himself. By the way, a literal translation of this verse from Matthew’s Gospel says that “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes. And who is my brother? Anyone in need. The least of these – our brothers, our sisters, members of the family, the human family. Every child of this earth is a child of God, and so a brother or sister of Jesus himself. When we help them, we help Jesus. How can we do anything but help and keep our brother, our sister, and all our neighbors in need? 


This is another in my series exploring scripture’s most compelling questions. I share more about this series here: What Are Scripture’s Most Compelling Questions?

2 thoughts on “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

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