Where is your brother? (Part 3 of 3)

crime sceneThere’s something happening here

What it is ain’t exactly clear

There’s a man with a gun over there

Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound

Everybody look what’s going down

 

There’s battle lines being drawn

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong

Young people speaking their minds

Getting so much resistance from behind

 

What a field-day for the heat

A thousand people in the street

Singing songs and carrying signs

Mostly say, hooray for our side

 

Paranoia strikes deep

Into your life it will creep

It starts when you’re always afraid

You step out of line, the man come and take you away

 

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound

Everybody look what’s going down

Stop, hey, what’s that sound

Everybody look what’s going down (Stephen Stills, 1966)

I began this series of posts following the murders of two black men by cops and of five cops by one black man. In the meantime – in an extremely “mean time” – three more cops have been gunned down by a black man. There’s something happening here…

We’ve been talking about Cain’s murder of his brother, Abel, and the questions that God asked before and after the crime:

  • “Why are you angry?
  • “Why is your face downcast?”
  • “If you do what is right will you know be accepted?”
  • “Where is your brother?”

We’ve now come to Cain’s ludicrous question in response.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

One version says, “Is it my job to take care of my brother?” It’s a rhetorical question, loaded with sarcasm. And I’m not so sure God appreciates sarcastic answers to his serious questions.

God didn’t dignify the question with a response. I suppose he wasn’t willing to “cast his pearls before swine.” He knew Cain had no intention of listening to a sermon on brotherhood, even if it did come from the Maker of heaven and earth. He could’ve said, “Yes, you idiot! Of course you’re his keeper! Why do you think I put you both in the same family if you weren’t supposed to take care of each other? Obviously, you are your brother’s keeper!”

How about our country’s current spirit of violence between family members? What would God say to us? Try this on and see if it fits:

“Yes. That black man, that white cop, that Hispanic immigrant, that Syrian refugee, is your brother! And, yes, you are his keeper, his guardian! Face it. Your first instinct is to harm him rather than help him. You’ve killed your own brothers and sisters with whom you share my image. You must humble yourselves, admit your bitterness, and repent! And then begin to treat your family members with the mercy and respect they deserve.”

The Lord asked one final ominous question…

“What have you done?”

This is not nearly the same as the “Well done” that I hope to hear!

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ that we may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:10

At this performance review Jesus might just open the tribunal with “What have you done?” and then he went on to read his sentence.

Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

“Listen, Cain! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Can’t you hear it?” Do you think Cain could hear what God heard? Can we?

Then he drove him far from the ground where his brother was buried. He made the soil of Abel’s grave – all soil actually – infertile to Cain. He literally covered up his sin against his brother. He poisoned the soil with his brother’s blood, so God said, “Okay then let death reign there. Nothing will grow here anymore for you. You buried your brother here, so no matter how hard you try, nothing will grow here anymore. Not for you!”

Scary! Yes?

If we were to make this personal, what can we say? We can say that we don’t get to treat our fellow humans any old way we want and expect there’ll be no consequence. We can say that when we try to cover up our hate, we poison our hearts’ soil, which, until we repent, won’t grow anything but weeds and noxious fruit.

For which there is no cure but to sink the plow of repentance in our hearts and “break up our fallow ground” so the seed can have a fighting chance to grow into healthy fruit-bearing plants.

Cain’s response was much less than repentant: “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth…”

Here’s how the story ends:

So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and (as a restless wanderer) lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”

Murderers who can no longer farm the land are left to “wander.” Since the ground won’t grow anything, they live in perpetual motion in search of better soil. They can’t settle on fertile soil and work it until their hearts change. The only way to transition from restless wanderer to fruitful farmer is turn away from hating our brother and turn toward loving him.

Don’t mistake wandering with adventuring or exploring. Cain’s wandering was aimless. There’s no sense here of searching and finding for this “restless” wanderer. Like all unrepentant murderers, Cain was just a wandering fugitive.

To my mind many of us American Christians are doing much more wandering instead of farming. We’ve replaced our fruit-bearing with sword-bearing. Rather than placing us under God’s blessing, our lovelessness, has consigned us to Cain’s curse.

But it doesn’t have to stay this way. We don’t have to stay in “the land of Nod, east of Eden.” We have an opportunity to be better. For us, the story doesn’t have to end this way.

God still says, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Though hate is a bloodthirsty animal poised to devour us, through repentance, we can rule over it.

Jesus let the bloodthirsty beast of sin kill him so that it wouldn’t be able to devour those who hide in him! He overcame the beast and lives inside those who come to him for transformation and says:

“As I have love you, love one another.” John 13

What say ye?

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