Article: Am I My Brother’s Keeper

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” 

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Genesis 4:9

 This comes from one of the oldest stories in the Bible. The story of Cain and Abel. If you haven’t read this story, take the time to read it. You can find it in the first book of the Bible in the fourth chapter.

I am not going to look at the whole story, just the verses above because I believe it is a question worth exploring.

Most of you know that Cain kills his brother Abel because he is both jealous and angry that God accepted Abel’s offering.

Before Cain can hurt his brother in any way God comes to Abel and tries to help him think through his emotions before he does something rash. In other words, God cares and gives Cain the opportunity to reflect on what is going on inside of himself before he takes it out on his brother.

Needless to say, Cain doesn’t reflect.

Knowing what happened to Abel, God casually asks Cain, “Where’s your brother?”

Cain gets all snarky on God (who already tried to help him once responds)—“I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” I think you probably could a “Geesh God” at the end of that statement.

That is the question, isn’t it? Even for us. Are we responsible for others?

The answer is both “yes” and “no”.

First the no. We are not responsible for the words and actions of others. We can’t control others and it is an unhealthy endeavor to think we can. Whether it be through manipulation or intimidation. Every individual is responsible for their own words and actions. Even God did not try to control Cain.

Yet, in this world we see all sorts of unhealthy behavior where people try to get other people to do what they want. Whether it is bullying, codependent or passive aggressive behavior, all of it is an attempt to manipulate others.

However you want to look at it, we are not responsible (nor should we be) for the words and actions of others no matter how close you are them relationally speaking.


We are called by God to be responsible for the care of our brother. In this story, the word used is “brother.” (Because they were brothers.) This call for care is not limited to family. Jesus unambiguously clarified the question, “Who is my neighbor and should I care for them” in the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.

Although we are not responsible for the words and actions of others, we are called to care for the world around us.

In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther addresses this as he explains the meaning of the Fifth Commandment…

“You shall not kill.”
What does this mean?
Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbor’s life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life.

 I know I am not telling you anything new here. Maybe I am reminding myself as I see all the pain and suffering over the past several weeks (hurricanes, Las Vegas shootings, the North Bay fires). Instead of spending time being angry, we should use that time and energy doing what we can to help others.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben



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