A guilty Cain, when faced with God’s question about what was up with his deceased brother, Abel, famously quipped,”am I my brother’s keeper?”
God didn’t anwer the question, but simply asked, “What have you done?”
That’s a good question we can ask ourselves as a nation, particularly as we move toward an election that most say will determine the standards by which we relate to each other as fellow Americans. What have we done, and what are we planning to do? It’s also a good question to be asked by Christians living in a capitalist society. Is there a way to be a good capitalist (one who is motivated by profit-making, buy beware) and a good follower of Christ at the same time?
I think it’s possible. The retired Google millionaire, Doug Edwards, who recently asked to have his taxes raised is a good example of a wealthy person who makes money but still pays attention to what is going on with others. (Don’t know that story? Check it out on YouTube.com.) Implied in his brief statement is the recognition that what he has, he has as a result of others who clicked on google and made the search engine so successful. There is a reciprocal relationship. A little like the phrase, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” in the Lord’s Prayer (NRSV translation). I don’t know whether Mr. Edwards is a religious man or not, but his heart seems to be in a good place.
David Kelsey, writing about human nature in Christian Theology (Hodgson and King, Fortress Press) says, “a harmonious relationship to the rest of creation is part of the unchangeable structure of human nature. One is truly ‘at home’ in this world. This is poles apart from the familiar modern way of understanding ourselves as isolated spirits arbitrarily thrown into a world lacking purpose or intrinsic value.”
We are here for each other. Our life has meaning when we are responsive to each other, and all of creation.
Wealth alone is not an evil thing; greed, however, can be a problem. Appreciation of fine things, beautiful things is not an evil thing; attachment to wealth as the source of our worth and our security, however, is a problem. The story of the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-23 deals with this. The young man asks Jesus what he has to do to have eternal life. When Jesus tells him to sell his possessions and give what he has to the poor, the guy cannot do it. Add greed to attachment to wealth, and we find ourselves so focused on our own well-being that we forget to glance over and see how our brother or sister is doing. Like Cain, when asked, “‘where is your brother?” — today meaning the unemployed, the elderly, the poor, the marginalized — we are unable to answer in any way other than in nervous self-defense. Deep down, Cain knew he was on the wrong track – that’s why he evaded the issue.
Ideological differences are to be expected; what we face today, however, is less about ideology and more about how we are to relate to each other on a very human level. And that leaves us with a straight-foward choice: we either are responsible for seeing to the well-being of all, or we are in this for ourselves alone.
May we choose wisely, so that life on earth is as it is in heaven.