Across the Pastor’s Desk: Are you your brother’s keeper?

Published 8:00 pm Friday, March 24, 2023

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Across the Pastor’s Desk by Kenneth Jensen

Recently, I came across a story in the Associated Press that estimated that approximately 350,000 Americans died from COVID-19 because people chose not to wear a mask. In addition, the PBS News Hour reported that over 45,000 people die annually from gun violence, which includes suicide. And yet there is strong resistance to what many consider “common sense” gun legislation.

Kenneth Jensen

We value individual rights and the freedom to do as we please. I believe it is a lingering effect from life on the frontier. Individual determination and drive enabled the pioneers to clear the land, plow the prairies and corral grazing cattle. Individualism inspires adventure, discovery and creativity from which we all benefit. It is a good thing!

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Genesis chapter 4 relates the story of Cain and Abel. In a jealous rage, Cain murders his brother. Soon after, the Lord comes looking for Cain. He asks, “Where is your brother Abel?”

Cain replies, “Am I my brother’s keeper?

Am I my brother’s keeper? Sometimes the answer sounds as if it were “No.” The apostle Paul wrote the congregation in Thessalonica to “keep away from every brother who is idle. … If a man will not work, he shall not eat” — 2 Thessalonians 3:8-10 NIV.

Yet other times the answer is obviously “Yes.” Jesus painted a graphic picture of the final judgement (Matthew 25:31-46). The king welcomed those into his kingdom who fed the poor, gave a drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked and cared for the sick.

“As you did for the least of these brothers of mine,” he said, “you did for me.”

Those who ignored or who failed to see the poor, the thirsty, naked, and sick were cast out into the eternal darkness.

The underlying themes running throughout the scriptures and especially the New Testament may be defined as the “Three Cs”: Conviction, Compassion and Community.

Conviction. In whom or in what do I believe? What are the principles which undergird what I choose to do or not to do?

Compassion. Jesus said we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Simply put, people who love themselves eat a healthy diet, exercise and get sufficient rest. We are to care for others as we would care for ourselves.

Community. In the beginning, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We are made for relationships. What I want or feel I deserve takes second place to the community of which I am a part. When you suffer, I will suffer with you. When you celebrate, I will share your joy.

Am I my brother’s keeper?

Cain chose not to be. He ended up a restless wander upon the earth. Individualism is a good thing, but when it becomes self-centered, it risks the fate of Cane.

Kenneth Jensen is a retired ELCA pastor living in Albert Lea.