My Brother’s Keeper Genesis 4:9

Am I my brother’s keeper?—Gen_4:9.

This sounds as if it were going to be a boys’ sermon, but it is a sermon just as much for girls as for boys, because all the people in the world are our brothers and sisters, and we are all more or less their “keepers.”

Of course you know that the words of the text were Cain’s reply to God’s question—“Where is Abel thy brother?” “What have I to do with my brother?” he meant. “It’s none of my business looking after him. How am I to know where he is, or what he is doing?” But all the time Cain knew in his heart that he was his brother’s keeper, that he was responsible for him. His answer was just a bit of bluff.
I suppose Cain was the first person who made that excuse, but he wasn’t by any means the last.

Hundreds and thousands and millions of people since his day have been making the same excuse, or some other very like it. Most people are willing to bear the consequences of their own acts, but they don’t like to think that what they do or say may make a difference to someone else. And so they say, “Am I my brother’s keeper? Am I going to be responsible for him as well as for myself? He’s quite able to look after himself.

What does it matter to him what I do or don’t do?”

Now you can no more help being your brother’s keeper than you can help being you. We are all bound together in such a wonderful way, we are all so dependent on each other, that we can’t avoid being keepers of our brothers and sisters.

When Michael Angelo was painting a picture or carving a statue he used to wear a candle fastened to his forehead so that his shadow might not fall on his work. But there is no magic candle that will keep the shadow of our influence from falling on those around us. We cannot help casting shadows on others, we cannot help influencing them in some way. That is quite certain. The only thing that is not certain is what kind of influence we are going to have—a good one or a bad. Let me tell you two stories.

The first is about Josiah Wedgwood, the famous potter, who invented the beautiful Wedgwood ware that is so much admired. Josiah lived about a hundred years ago, and besides being a celebrated potter he was a thoroughly good man and a splendid Christian.

One day a nobleman came to the factory, and Mr. Wedgwood asked a boy of fifteen to take the visitor on a tour and explain how things were done.

Now the nobleman was smart and clever, but he was not a godly man. As he went he began to use bad language and to make light of sacred things. At first the boy was shocked, but later he began to laugh at the smart remarks. Mr. Wedgwood who was following was angry.

When the nobleman returned to the office the potter picked out a vase of rare workmanship and began to point out its beauties and to describe how carefully and wonderfully it had been made. The nobleman was charmed and held out his hand to receive the vase, but as Mr. Wedgwood was handing it to the visitor he let it fall, and it lay shattered in a hundred pieces.

The nobleman was very angry. He reproached his host for having destroyed the beautiful vase which he had so much wished to buy, but the potter replied, “My lord, there are things more precious than any vase—things which once ruined can never be restored. I can make another vase like this for you, but you can never give back to the boy who has just left us the pure heart which you have destroyed by making light of sacred things, and by using bad words.”

The other story is about a hunchback named Antonio. He was very poor, and very ugly, and very disagreeable. He used to sit all day under the shadow of the great Cathedral of St. Mark in Venice, and in order to earn a living he sold little plaster statues of the saints to the people who came to the cathedral to worship and pray.

When he went home at night Antonio would often beat his wife, and he used to say that that was the only pleasure he had in life. So you see he was not at all a nice person.

Now the people in these parts had an unusual superstition. They believed that touching the hump of a hunchback would bring them luck. So, frequently, as they passed out and in of the cathedral, men and women would lay a hand for a moment on Antonio’s hump. The hunchback was furious. He always drove them off with angry words and rude gestures. Why should they make light of his illness? He didn’t interfere with them, why should they interfere with him?

One day, when the sun was blazing hot at noon, a young girl came across the cathedral square. She stopped to look at Antonio, and then very gently and timidly she asked, “Please, may I touch your hump?” The hunchback was just going to give his usual angry reply; but the girl looked so pretty and pleading and seemed so shy that, almost in spite of himself, he changed his mind and said gruffly, “If you like.”

That night Antonio, for the first time in many weeks, didn’t beat his wife. The gentle touch of the girl’s fingers seemed to have made him realize that a woman might be made for something better than beating.

Many months passed away and Antonio had returned to his old ways, when one day the girl came again to the square and stood before him. This time she was dressed all in black, but the hunchback recognized her at once. “Well, what do you want now?” he asked crossly.

The girl smiled and laid her soft hand gently on his rough, stained one. “Only to thank you,” she replied. “I was in great trouble that summer day when I came to you, but after I touched you the trouble all went away. They say you don’t like people to touch you, but I can’t understand it. It must be so wonderful to be able to take away people’s troubles like that—just at a touch. You must feel”—and her voice grew soft and full of wonder—“you must feel like God.”

From that day the little hunchback never beat his wife, and he became so gentle and kind that all who would might touch his hump, and nobody feared him.

Boys and girls, we can live in two ways. We have it in our power, by our own selfish, careless lives, to make others unhappy, to make them the worse for knowing us. But we have it also in our power, by the help of God’s grace, to live true, unselfish, loving lives, and in so doing to make others happier and better.

Which way are you going to live? Which way are you going to “keep” your brother?

He toiled on the street for his daily bread,
Jostled and pushed by the surging throng.
“No one has time to watch,” he said,
“Whether I choose the right or the wrong;
No one can be by me misled.”

He chose the wrong, and thought no one cared:
But a child lost that day his ideal of strength;
A cynic sneered at the soul ensnared;
A weak man halted, faltered, at length Followed him into the sin he had dared.
(George Lee Burton.)