St. Paul put it this way in his Letter to the Romans: “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.”
Thomas Merton, in his book “No Man Is An Island,” shared this thought: “It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves but for others.”
In a way, St. Paul and Merton were responding to a central Scriptural question, one that almost every book of the Bible tries to answer. The same question has challenged human beings since the dawn of time.
More precisely, in referring to the Bible, since not long after Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden. From the Book of Genesis:
“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?’”
Cain and Abel were children of God. He loved both, deeply and equally. He desired for them to love and care for each other. Indeed, God loves all of us equally, for God is love. And He put all of us in this delightful mess together.
Am I my brother and sister’s keeper? Jesus Himself answered that crucial question — over and over again.
“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” … “I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” … “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” … “Do you love me? Tend my sheep.” … “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
I have an inherent human obligation to make sure every child has access to health care and an education. I have a responsibility toward all people having opportunities for meaningful work and a place to sleep at night, food and clean drinking water. And those concerns should extend not only to the poor in our immediate community but also those in Africa and Central America, to those who suffer injustice in China or the Middle East, to those who fear for their lives in Mexico or America’s inner cities.
There’s more, in a local outlook.
When I venture out in public, I always wear a facemask, even though it might feel uncomfortable and look a bit ridiculous. It’s not just about me trying to elude infection. Masks can stop many of the droplets from a person’s mouth. And asymptomatic people with COVID-19 can spread the disease.
So wearing a mask is an unspoken way of saying I want to be my brother’s keeper, showing I care for my sisters and brothers.
“If one member suffers,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “all the members suffer with it.”
If members of the Black community have experiences that indicate their lives don’t seem to matter to the rest of the community, then I need to hear and understand their stories. Same for my sisters and brothers of Asian, Native American, Latin American and Middle Eastern descent.
Someday we will come face to face with God. And when we do, I believe the Father will challenge us with this question: Did you love my Son, Jesus?
Did you ease anyone’s suffering? Did you put a stumbling block in the way of other people? Did you pursue peace and build up other people instead of making life more difficult for them? Did you make the world a better place for just yourself, or for everyone? Did you tell all your brothers and sisters that they matter to you and actually show it?
Merton also wrote: “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
Yes, I am called to be my brother and sister’s keeper. Each of us is.
Eisenbath is a parishioner at St. Cletus Parish in St. Charles.