Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.”
--Genesis 4: 8-11
I read this passage recently as part of my class, and immediately I thought, “What a greedy, arrogant bastard that Cain! ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’! Jackass!”
I had a visual of him: he had a big head, cocked off to the side, little bit overweight, his pectoralis minor muscles are pulling his shoulders forward and in….hmmm, funny he looked like the previous Republican Governor of Florida from a very famous family….
And yet, he could just have easily looked like me.
Or you, maybe.
Or maybe not even looking like an individual person, but like a nation of people, who upon realizing that God hasn’t looked with favor upon their offering, has turned bitter and ruthless toward the one who has received God’s blessing. The favored one doesn’t deserve that attention, not when we have something just as good...or better!
In the Cain and Abel story, God cautioned Cain to not let his jealousy of Abel and his fatted portions of his flock get the better of him. However, there was no stopping Cain and his rage, and he whacked his brother in the field. And then gets that attitude with “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
In many respects, I see parallels between the jealousy and greed that drove Cain’s actions and the public policy behavior of those in the developed countries such as the United States toward those parts of humanity who live in places without means and the ability to meet basic needs. In this country, we panic at the idea of gas costing five bucks a gallon for unleaded. And we can actually fathom the idea of bailing out greedy financial institutions with $700-billion dollars. In parts of Africa and Asia, such numbers are inconceivable because the average person makes less than a dollar a day…and that’s if they’re doing well. There are no televisions with reality TV shows; no radios with NPR. Frankly, my dears, we have a whole lot that nobody else has got, and we use more of the world's resources than most other countries. So why don’t we share?
In fairness, I think the American people do open the hearts and their wallets to those in need. Recently, the congregation of St. John’s, in a couple of days, pulled together $5,000 for our companion parish in Cuba that had been devastated by recent hurricanes. But our government, and the corporations that benefit from our developed-nation status, bear the sin of Cain when we have the means by which to aid a country toward self-sufficiency and instead keep the knowledge and resources to ourselves or, worse, exploit the people of another country to enrich ourselves. Probably one of the most disturbing things to read in the book by former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill about our current administration was the trip he took to Africa, in conjunction with the rock musician Bono, to see how an irrigation system could turn a fallow dry piece of land into a place where farming could happen. When O’Neill returned to Washington, DC, with this proposal for creating sustainable agriculture in Africa…he was shut down. And an opportunity to address global poverty in at least one nation and one continent went up on a shelf in DC to gather dust.
When you think about the commandment from Jesus to “love thy neighbor”, you have to wonder: what the hell is wrong with our foreign policy? Why haven’t we done more to act on the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals? The Millennium Development Goals ought to be efforts we can all embrace: ending extreme global poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, improving maternal health, ensuring environmental protection, and promoting global partnership for development. In this increasingly interdependent world, we all ought to be committing to seeing these areas addressed, not just abroad, but at home as well.
The question remains: can those of us in the developed world overcome the Cain-like envy which leads us to want to always be the favored one, so that we do right by our under-developed neighbors? How will each one of us examine how we live in this world, and make a change and demand our leaders do the same?
Can we accept that we are our brother’s keeper, and not his eventual killer?