Cain and Abel were the first children of Adam and Eve.
Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the LORD asked Cain, Where is your brother Abel? He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
From the beginning of the revelation of God’s Word to man, this question has been central to our Faith, and to our identity as children of God, “Am I my brother’s keeper.
One of the most frequent criticisms that Jesus made regarding the Temple leadership, the priests, the elders and Pharisees, is that they taught a strict religion, but did nothing to lighten the burden of the faithful. Jesus fed them and healed them. The Jews laid burdens upon them.
The ancient teaching about being our brother’s keeper was taught throughout the Old Testament, like in today’s first reading from Ezekiel,
Thus says the LORD:
You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel;
when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me.
If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die, ”
and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way,
the wicked shall die for his guilt,
but I will hold you responsible for his death.
Ezekiel was a contemporary of the prophet Daniel. They were both carried off in the great Exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. They were both prophets to the Israelites and Jews in Exile, in Babylon.
One of the great reasons for the Exile was Israel’s obstinate infidelity to God. The Temple leadership preyed on the people, even while they taught them the Word of God, from Moses to the prophets. But they themselves did not follow God’s Word. In particular, they did not defend the poor and down-trodden. Ezekiel proclaims God’s message to “warn the wicked” or else be responsible for their death.
St. Paul teaches,
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love does no evil to the neighbor;
hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.
In the Gospel, Jesus teaches,
If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
We are “watchmen” as Christians. We betray our faith, like the Jews of the Old Testament if we do not care for our neighbors. God takes no pleasure in our punishment, teaches us to concerned for the well-being of one another, spiritually and physically. This fundamental teaching led to the first public hospitals and public schools founded by the Church. Also, orphanages and asylums for the poor and elderly were first founded by Christians.
The world treats the wicked with “silence and violence”. We are called to not be like the world. There is no reward awaiting us if we remain silent in the face of wickedness, poverty or human suffering.
One of the most fascinating parts of the Gospel today is the part that Jesus teaches how to handle a brother who has chosen to ignore even the Church. Imagine he could be talking about pro-abortion politicians, human trafficking, or people who traffic in pornography or drugs,
… then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Now, stop and think: How did Jesus treat Gentiles, tax collectors and prostitutes?
Jesus would seek them out and dine with them. He didn’t invite them to the synagogue, but he still sought their conversion. Matthew was a tax collector whom Jesus sought. Mary Magdalene became a devoted follower of Jesus. We are justified in excommunicating from the communion with the Church those who have rejected the Church and the Sacraments. We are not justified in completely turning our backs on them. Think about homeless and poor.
The primary mission of Israel was to take God into the world, to be missionaries of His revelations and Word. However, they refused. Instead they sought to build up their own kingdom, power and wealth like other kingdoms in the world. They chose to imitate the world, even taking pagan Gods into their kingdom and the Temple, defiling themselves, generation after generation. They ignored their obligations as the people of God to take God into the world.
It is ironic, then, the Babylon had to come and take the Israelites out into the world. Many never returned to Jerusalem. In fact, over time, Babylon became a strong center of Judaism and the teachings of Israel, perhaps even larger than Jerusalem after the Exile. Baghdad has one of the oldest Jewish communities in the entire world. A similar thing happened when the Assyrians carried off the Israelites in the Northern Kingdom, causing the first Diaspora or “Dispersion” of Israelites and Jews throughout the world. These Jewish communities and their synagogues in various nations would later become the first places the Apostles would visit as they undertook their mission to evangelize the world. The Jewish synagogue in Rome is the oldest synagogue in the world, around 3,000 years old.
God intended us to make disciples of all nations, carrying his Word to the entire world. Much of the foundation of Church was being prepared even centuries before the birth of Christ. We were always meant to carry God’s Word to the ends of the earth. We were always meant be our brother’s keepers. Woe to us if we do not fulfill the role God intended for his faithful.