Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

I have wondered about this phrase before. It seems awkward or out of sync. I was thinking that I would naturally want to be on a lookout for my siblings and this should apply to friends whom I would go out on a limb for. Tracing the origin of the phrase may throw some light on why it was said in the first place.

This was from the Bible in the book of Genesis chapter 4 verses 1 to 10. Cain and Abel were the first two children born of Adam and Eve. Although they were brothers, they had different choice of work. Cain tilled the ground and Abel tended sheep. They obviously knew of God’s presence since their parents had committed the first sin which resulted in their banishment from the Garden of Eden.

As it was their practice to give offerings to honor and acknowledge God, Cain offered the fruits of his labour and Abel offered the firstborn of the flock and the fat portions to God. God accepted Abel’s offerings but not Cain’s. Cain became angry about this and pulled a long face and God asked him why the long face if he had done well. He warned Cain that he must rule over sin that was crouching at his door.

So what did Cain do? He went to talk to Abel and then killed him. As simple as that.

Thereafter, God asked Cain where was Abel and he replied, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

I was appalled at what Cain did and his outrageous answer to God for many reasons such as, he killed Abel who was his blood brother and he lied to God about it, and he had the cheek to be sarcastic about it.

Let’s figure this Cain chap and see what’s going on in his head or heart. He was not happy with God for accepting Abel’s offering. It looked like he was jealous of Abel because God favoured him. Ok, let’s backtrack…. Abel offered the first born and fat portions which meant that they were the best of his labour. Cain offered what he had taken from his harvest and it was not likely the best portion but a portion. God accepted the offering that came from a heart that put him first. When Cain was angry about this, God spoke to him and warned him about falling into sin and that he must not be ruled by it. However, an angry and perhaps jealous Cain went to speak with Abel and then killed him.

Sure looked like the acceptance of the offering must have been really important otherwise Cain would not have reacted that way. It is like when your boss praised one of your peers for a great job done and you were wondering why you were not given recognition for your work. Sounds familiar? Cain became bitter about it and focused his rage on Abel (the person who was praised). In an office situation, it would not be uncommon to hear gossips against someone who had been praised or promoted. Cain’s focus was on the favour, it is the same as when we focus on the gift and not the giver. So his bitterness and anger was directed at Abel and Cain feigned ignorance of what had happened to Abel even though he was the one who killed him.

When I reflected deeper, I found that there are many Cains among us and that I have been a Cain one way or other at some point when I say hurtful things about another person, when I join others to criticise or judge a colleague/friend, when I choose to ignore a person I didn’t like, when I choose to comment or contribute in condemning another and doing all that because I was not happy that I was not `favoured’. Now I see clearer what it means that I need to be careful as sin is crouching at my door.