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

One of the most fascinating sources of study in the Bible is the questions that you find there. One of the first questions you find near the beginning of the Book of Genesis is a question that Cain asks in response to God’s question. Cain has just murdered his brother Able and God asks Cain, “Where is your brother?” Cain answers God with a question of his own, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” That question has always rung out throughout history. Are we really responsible for our brothers and sisters created in the image of God like us?

Cain’s question has once again become relevant for us today, particularly in America. We have a heated debate among many of our citizens as to whether they should have to wear a face mask to protect others. Some of our citizens see this as an infringement upon their freedom. Some believe they should have the freedom to go anywhere they want and in any place they want without wearing a mask. To ask them to wear a mask is to infringe on their freedom of choice.

Yet freedom is not absolute. My freedom to choose is always limited by your freedom to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There are laws and regulations that limit my freedom of choice when that choice may endanger the lives of others. For example, while I have the freedom to drive with a driver’s license, I don’t have the freedom to run red lights, stop signs or drive 60 miles an hour through a school zone. Nor do I have the freedom to drive drunk or impaired by drugs. While I have the freedom of speech to say and write whatever I please, I don’t have the freedom to yell, “Fire!” in a movie theater. While I have the freedom to own firearms and carry a concealed weapon with a concealed weapons license, I don’t have the freedom to fire that gun into a crowd of innocent people. I could go on and on but you see the point. Our freedom doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We enjoy our freedom within a social contract of responsibilities which exists for the benefit and welfare of all. My individual freedom is by necessity limited by the freedom of others and my responsibilities to those others. Part of the reason why we have a constitution and a set of laws is to provide order and peace so that we each may enjoy our freedom within limits. To answer Cain’s question, we are our brothers keeper. As citizens of the United States, we live in a civil society structured by laws and structures which insure and protect our freedom and liberty.

But as Christians, followers of Jesus we go beyond what the civil law stipulates. We live under the law of love expressed by Jesus’ Great Commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your heart and all your strength.” And the second Great Commandment is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We are obligated by Jesus’s second Great Commandment to use our freedom for the benefit of others. For the Christian, freedom is to be used to serve others. As Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13, “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” 

So why should I wear a mask in the store, at the bank, in a theater or in church? As Christians, we wear masks as an act of love to protect our more vulnerable neighbors who may be elderly, have health conditions, or be immune compromised. We choose to limit our freedom in love and concern for others. As Paul tells us we should use our freedom in Christian love to serve and protect others. This is the motivating directive for the Christian who seeks to follow the example of Christ. So for the Christian, the answer to Cain’s question is obvious. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. 

God of liberty and freedom, we thank you that in Christ we have been freed from the power of sin and the bondage of the law. Help us to live by the law of love and use our freedom to serve and benefit others for whom you have died. This we ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Are we responsible for our brothers and sisters? How? What does that responsibility entail?
  2. How does our responsibility to others limit the choices we make?
  3. How does Jesus’ law of love go beyond civil law and call us to care for our brothers and sisters, particularly the more vulnerable among us? 
  4. How does Jesus’ law of love effect the choices you make each day? How does it effect the way you treat and live among your neighbors?