by Kurt Nelson
Rollins Chapel – 9/29/10
Am I My Brother’s Keeper. Genesis 3: 2-11
I’ve been on what can only be described as a spiritual journey,
with this text, this past week,
As, I suppose, one would hope from sitting with any good, big question.
I wanted to make sense not only of this strange story in Genesis,
but also of the various uses of the phrase,
"am I my brother's keeper?"
within our popular and political context.
We are - I've come to the undeniable conclusion -
We’re not really sure if, or to what extent,
we are our brothers keepers.
Though that doesn’t stop us from quoting the passage frequently.
The phrase "I am my brother's keeper" or
"I am my sister's keeper" is a popular one with our current President.
Though, like most of those who quote this line,
the murderous context seems all but forgotten.
But we’re just as likely to hear the phrase,
"brother's keeper" style politics uttered with scorn and disdain,
to highlight a more conservative vantage point,
on various social and entitlement programs.
Indeed, the only consistent use of the phrase,
relates to literal relationships of brotherhood.
So, of course, I pondered my own younger brother,
whose name is Carl.
he's 4 ½ years younger than I,
And he was a great source of difficulty for me growing up,
as I was for him.
I don't consider myself much of a Cain figure,
nor him much of an Abel.
Neither of us ever murdered the other out of jealous rage.
But we had our challenges,
and our difficulties.
I suspect, as the younger brother,
that Carl got the worst of it.
For he was the young, brash, obnoxious one.
But I was the older, wiser, more malevolent one.
Thus, I was asked by parents fairly often,
in good biblical fashion,
"Where is your brother Carl?"
Maybe it was because I had a robust sense of parental authority,
or perhaps due to my good, Lutheran upbringing,
I knew that Cain's response didn't work very well –
but I was much more likely to give an honest response to this question,
"He's probably still stuck in the laundry chute,"
or, "I convinced him to hide in the dryer a while back,
and I haven't seen him since,"
than I was to utter Cain's sarcastic question,
"Am I my brother's keeper?"
It is a strangely profound question,
which no doubt continues to play on the public imagination.
But let us note that it comes from a deeply strange
and troubling text.