Am I My Brother's Keeper?

From Judith Moriarty

I am not a believer in coincidence. I believe that we are all gifts to one another. Like Christmas packages beneath the tree, the velvet bowed, glittery gifts, are those that first attract and draw attention to themselves. It is naturally assumed, in man's narrow thinking, that the more ostentatious the wrappings, the better the contents! And indeed they may contain anything from fools gold to a hard, cold, multi-faceted diamond.
Discarded, beneath the boughs, are the packages wrapped in string and brown paper, newspaper, or butcher paper, with the message written in crayon. What value this? In a world saturated with materialistic wonders, of yachts, exotic getaways, luxury vehicles, designer clothing, upscale exquisite cuisine, and vacation cabins, who has time for the cheap, the tawdry, the common junk of life? Or so it's advertised.
Missed in the tinsel, gala laughter, and selfishness of it all, was the lump of clay with a tiny palm print, the special rock found on that trip, a collage of magazine pictures, or the valuable necklace made from macaroni! Missed was the one of a kind, the irreplaceable gift of oneself given in an act of love. Missed was the time, the effort, the thoughtfulness and excitement in the preparing and giving. The gift and the giver are left in the discarded refuse as the guests move on to a laden table with nary a thought to those outside the gate starving, ill or forgotten.
"The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either---but right through every human heart---and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within heats overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of hearts, there un-uprooted small corner of evil." Gulag Archipelago, vol. 2, "The Ascent".
In our seeking out of the titled, the moneyed, the popular, the recognized, the talented etc., in seminars, gatherings, special musical presentations, academia, or political visitations; how often do we pass by and miss the gift, the genuine giver or gift right beside us? I am reminded of a visit here in New Hampshire of Senator Liberman. Surrounded by an army of handlers, and security personnel, the news media jostled to get a photo or a statement. Done up like a pet nanny goat off to the fair, he wore an air of pretentious, condescending affability , enjoying the star status. He gave a cursory nod and remark to an elderly couple protesting the war and was off to a special interview and adulation from party members inside the headquarters. Watching it all, I couldn't help thinking of the real story here. The elderly couple. She an 82 yr. old activist and he, a World War II veteran and prisoner of war. They, both the gift and the giver. Inside, need was also missed, as scripted answers and autographs were given. My attention was drawn to a bedraggled, ill-clothed man taking advantage of the distraction and stuffing his pockets with donuts, cheese, and cookies at the snack table. What story here I thought? His fifteen minutes up, the good Senator was whisked out the back door and as I turned, so too the hungry man, with only a few crumbs left on the table. I smiled and thought, good for you.
"As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests." Belivers of the lie; you hear those calling into the media, proclaiming stridently, that because their family has always been Socialist, Democrat, or Republican, well by God, that's what they would always be! Labeling of far right, far left, all Muslims are terrorists, damn immigrants, ship'em all out, sort out the pieces later, nuke the whole place, compassionate conservative warmongers, bleeding heart liberals; on and on it goes. One is quite taken aback by the venom of it all.
"Operation Enduring Freedom, we're on a Crusade, those not with us are with the terrorists, tell those for peace to go live with Saddam, I'm losing my patience, or damn traitors!" Everyone in the whole conflagration claiming that God is on their side! We are informed that box cutting carrying, religious fanatics, on their way to paradise with dozens of virgins awaiting their arrival are convinced that they are in the right! Palestinians with bombs strapped to their bodies claim they are right, with Israel retaliating with tanks and bombs claiming God is on their side. The religious right on the home front, meanwhile holds prayer breakfasts, bombs Afghanistan and asks God's blessing for victory in liberating Iraq with 'Shock and Awe' missiles! Little wonder that perverseness and chaos reigns throughout the nation. 
Lost in the fanaticism of it all is the first question (smart alecky) asked of God...Genesis 4:9 "Am I my brother's keeper?" Now the definition of "Keeper", according to Strong's Hebrew dictionary means "to guard, protect or attend to" (someone or something). In this case, Genesis 4:9 is referring to the guarding, protecting and attending to someone. "Guarding" refers to "looking out for one's best interest--to take care of keeping someone from harm, theft, injury, loss, or anything that is not in the best interest of the person's welfare." It requires watchfulness. The person(s) doing the guarding takes the well-being of that which is guarded seriously and personally. He/She that lacks awareness or skill regarding guarding is not sensitive to loss or injury. "Protect" refers to "covering or shielding from exposure, injury or destruction". When "protecting' keep in mind that we are responsible for protecting everyone, not just certain individuals, friends, or important persons. If someone is being wicked they are not deserving of protection and shielding. Just so, you don't kill or annihilate hundreds of thousands or maybe millions, in seeking out vengeance of the one! Hatred is a blinding attitude. Not only is it blinding, but it is a Self-Inflicting Blindness. If a person (or nation) succumbs to hatred, they willfully sacrifice awareness. One cannot refuse the truth without suffering the consequences. First John 2:1 says, "But he that hateth his brother is in darkness and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness has blinded his eyes." You cannot be blind and be a good keeper. "Am I my brother's keeper?" confirms Cain's blindness. One cannot be a good keeper or mindful of other's welfare when they harbor malice, bitterness, unforgiveness, jealousy, envy strife, variance, emulation, etc. If one professes kindness, concern, a lover of humanity, a peacemaker; yet harbors any of hateful attributes within him/herself, better that they not add hypocrisy to the lot by marching for Peace.
In all these public supplications of God, I have not heard it asked, "Who is my neighbor?" In Luke 10:25-29, we see a young man, being a lawyer and perhaps looking for the "loophole" in the law asking Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Christ relates to him the Parable of the Samaritan. The Jewish community at this time viewed Samaritans as a mixed breed of people, and would have nothing to do with them! In this parable we see "a certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his rainment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead." (verse 30)
Both the priest and the Levite passed the injured man by on the other side having more important things (in their estimation) to attend to. The priest and Levite represent the written and sacrificial parts of the Law. The law was never designed to save man. Both the priest and Levite were repulsed by the sight of this man and passed by him. The Law has nothing to give, but demands all from you. The Samaritan had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (verses 33,34). He did not pass by on the other side. Jesus closes the parable by asking the young attorney, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
The phrase "Good Samaritan" is used to describe any person who goes out of his way to help another. The largest recreational vehicle club in the U.S. is termed the "Good Sam Club" from its ideal of members helping one another. But the parable says more than, it's good to help someone in need. The parable is also about excuses. About self-justification. About letting oneself off the hook.
Who is my neighbor? We might, and do, interpret this as the Jews of this time did. It typically was meant meaning "one who is near", in terms of members of the same people and religious community. The Pharisees tended to exclude "ordinary people" from their definition. Jesus gave many of his teaching in parables. Parables are stories told to make a point. They aren't actual history, but they capture true-to-life details in such a way that hearers' identify with the elements of the story and can grasp the spiritual lesson. There was no actual Good Samaritan that Jesus is referring to.
The lawyer began by asking for a definition of "neighbor" in order to justify limiting his love to his fellow Jews only. Jesus doesn't define "neighbor" in so many words, but his story makes it clear that our neighbor is whoever has a need. It doesn't matter WHO they are!! To love our neighbor as ourselves knows no self-satisfying limits. It takes in Muslims, Hindus, Arabs, Jews, Blacks, Whites, Asians, Native Americans; all cultures, all creeds, all religions and those with no professed beliefs. Paradoxically, we are in this parable the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan and the wounded beaten man. Depending on circumstances, or situations in all of our lives, we can recognize how many times we too passed by on the other side hurrying off to vacation, some affair or to meet an important personage. Many of us in our beliefs, our class, our ethnic background, or our disabilities, have suffered the labeling of the despised Samaritan. Still multitudes, in our own communities, in our own nation; and in famine, war ravaged, dictator controlled countries, represent the beaten, robbed, stripped man left for dead!
In our narrow minded, learned bigotry; let us not condemn or label all Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Palestinians, Blacks, Whites, Asians, Mexicans, et al., because of the perverse, distorted, sadistic actions and messages from the few. It is no great accomplishment in our limited circled lives to claim a love for all humanity. No cost in this! Easy to care for or love those who praise us, or are like minded in our shared interests. Easy to love those who agree with all we say, and never debate or challenge us to a deeper awareness. Easy to love the attractive, accepted, gifted, and able-bodied. The true test comes in loving the unlovable, the untouchables, the wounded, the discarded, the stranger of foreign lands and ancient cultures.
You will never teach or reach the man/woman with one book! In writing or speaking forth, one risks the venom and wrath of many people; compartmentalized in their own philosophies, religious zealousness, or intellectual snobbery! None of us are not so stoic, that we don't all suffer hurt from the accusations, labels, indifference, or hard heartiness of these people; purposed and convicted that they are the keepers of all wisdom, knowledge, and learning. We all of us, have experienced this in our personal lives, and have certainly seen it acted out on the global stage! Many a battle, many a vision, many a great accomplishment has been thwarted or derailed by such persons. If we are to be about our gift giving of one to another, we cannot let the spoilers influence our work. We have the obligation to not answer in kind or return hatred for hatred. In a world immersed in jealousy, hatred, anger, greed, pride, selfishness, murder, rage and chaos; the keepers, the protectors. the peacemakers, of the brotherhood of humanity, must be the light, the salt and the proclaimers of truth. Brush off the naysayers and keep moving! There's no time for their nonsense.
People are like packages beneath a Christmas tree. People, are also like sheep, easy prey for wolves in sheep's clothing, taken in by the aura or credentials of the personage at hand, those with the most strident voice, lofty ideals or future promises of happily ever after. It is simply a time to not be duped or deceived by those done up in gilded wrappings, or in imposter's attire. You will know them by their fruits. Some are all foliage with no fruit. The fruit of other's lives, their works, their words, their deeds; are withered, tasteless and worm eaten! One can not profess God's blessings or leading, when one is about planning the annihilation, suffering and mayhem of innocent people; our neighbors, our brothers! Whether one professes to be Christian, Muslim, Pagan, Agnostic or anything else; they have no claim to goodness, kindness, compassion, or love of their fellow man; if they condone killing, meanness, hatred, maiming or annihilating any part of humanity! Self defense is another matter, as is going to the rescue of a person in crisis. Peace and Love will not be found tied in crimson satin ribbons or floral velveteen, but in plain brown wrappings tied with string; just like you and me! Peace be unto you.



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