Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

A True Story

In 1928, a very interesting case came before the courts in Massachusetts. It concerned a man who had been walking on a boat dock when suddenly he tripped over a rope and fell into the cold, deep water of an ocean bay. He came up sputtering and yelling for help and then sunk again, obviously in trouble. His friends were too far away to help him, but only a few yards away, on another dock, was a young man sprawled on a deck chair, sunbathing.

The desperate man shouted, “Help, I can’t swim!” The young man, an excellent swimmer, only turned his head to watch as the man floundered in the water, sank and come up sputtering in total panic, and then disappeared forever.

The family of the drowned man was so upset by that display of callous indifference that they sued the sunbather. They lost. The court reluctantly ruled that the man on the dock had no legal responsibility whatever to try and save the other man’s life. In effect, the law agreed with Cain’s presupposition in Genesis 4: “I am not my brother’s keeper, I have every legal right to mind my own business and to refuse to become involved.”

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

As Jesus taught us in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), it is always easier to pass by on the other side of the road and not get involved. In this Parable, both the Priest and the Levite could have justified their indifference to the half-dead man quite easily. For example, the road between Jerusalem and Jericho was known as a dangerous place, where robbers often hid behind hills, just off the road. If they had stopped and helped the man they could have easily been ambushed. The injured man could have even been just pretending, just to get them to stop long enough to be attacked.

In Jesus’ mind, we can’t use the excuse that loving engagement is costly and often messy, in order to not get involved. We are our brother’s keeper. We are called to have the same kind of attitude as Jesus:

…Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6-8)

There is nothing sentimental to being a Good Samaritan. Rather, it is costly and full of risk, but also full of blessing. Let us take to heart the words of our Lord Jesus after he washed his disciples feet in the Upper Room: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17)

QOTD: Have I passed by on the other side of the road recently to avoid a brother in need?