In the Book of Genesis, after Cain has killed Able, God asks Cain, “where is Able?” Cain responds, “ I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper. “ Things have not changed a great deal since the beginning of time for humanity. Despite the advancement of civilization, there is still something lodged in our DNA which points us in the direction of individualism. There is still something within us that tells us the ”I” is more important than the corporate “we”. If our sense of personal importance was not already ingrained enough, it is possible Darwin solidified its justification with his theory of evolution and the survival of the fittest.
According to St. Paul, however, God did not create us simply for our individual survival. Instead, as Paul states in today’s reading from 1st Corinthians, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist. St. Paul conveys is, we have not been created by God to serve ourselves, or to simply seek ways to meet our wants and desires. Instead, we have been created by God for the pleasure and the glory of God.
St. Paul makes this statement in the midst of a discussion with the Corinthians about eating meat originally sacrificed to Idols. Common historical research indicates this wasn’t a problem for the early church. As Paul states in our passage, “there is no such thing as other gods, just the God of Israel, Yahweh.” Therefore the food offered to these other “gods” was not defiled because the act of the offering was in vain. Therefore, eating this offered food would not defile the individual.
The issue, however, with with eating sacrificial meat was not that it was wrong, but because not everyone understood the falsehood of idols within the early church. This kind of knowledge was only understood among the educated elite and stood as a stumbling block for the uneducated lower class whose world views was not based on the foundation of Greek logic or a sound Hebrew educations. Instead, the lower class’s world view was firmly rooted in the mythology of their day. This, Paul knew, would be hard for them to separate from despite their new lives in Christ.
Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians was rather than confuse the issues around idols and false Gods, it was best for everyone to give up eating the foods sacrificed to other gods. For the upper class this was not as easy a task as it sounds. The animals provided for the god’s were perhaps the best products on the market. Sacrificial meat was specially bred for this purpose and used at societal affairs. To be asked to give up this food source was akin to asking them to give up their social lives and go from eating filet mignon to eating only ground chuck. From Paul’s perspective, however, the sacrifice of the finest meat in Corinth was a small price to pay so others could obtain what he would later call the victor’s crown.
What sacrifice are we being called to make as keepers of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Perhaps keeper is the wrong term to use. For us today, who at every baptism vow to uphold that person in their walk with Christ, the term “keeper” is the wrong word. Maybe the more appropriate terms are mentor, guide or partner in Christ. If we were hearing this conversation in the context of an AA meeting, the role of sponsor would be an appropriate fit.
No matter what term we choose, what St. Paul is asking the Corinthians and us, is to do everything in our power to help others advance in their journey with Christ. As I meditated on this passage this week the story of the Marine Veteran, who in the midst of a 5k race, stopped to run beside a young boy who was struggling to finish the race came to mind. The Marine, gave up the chance to prove how fit and fast he was, perhaps even sacrificed coming in first. He certainly gave up the his chance at running his best time. But for this Marine, giving up all these opportunities for success seemed a small price to pay when compared with encouraging a young boy to run a good race.
We often find examples like this among our young people. So often the youth of today are criticized for their natural proclivity towards self-interest, and yet, they continue to surprise us on a regular basis when they put the greater glory of another over their own desire.
Three years ago, our nation cheered when opposing basketball teams in the Rochester area worked together so the autistic young man who had loyally worked as the teams ball boy was given a chance to be the star on the court, despite his team being behind. All the young men on the court that day worked together to allow the one who worked in the shadows to have a time of glory on center court.
Last year, here at home, the seniors of West Genesee High School let go of the common image of the Homecoming King. Instead of electing a star athlete as King,they elected the affable Andrew Bowman, a young man who happens to have Downs Syndrome, as Homecoming King.
Even within the context of the youth of this parish and St. Mark’s the Evangelist we have experienced those sacred moments when our young people demonstrate for us that they are listening to what we are trying to teach them about living a faith filled life. One of these moments happened last winter in the midst of a somewhat intense Crab Soccer game.
Crab Soccer is played by crawling on one’s back. The challenge is to work the ball down the court while literally looking up at the ceiling. On this particular day, we had lots of time for the game and I could see that Brennen, who is often at these meetings, was growing bored. On impulse, I decided to even out the teams by wheeling Brennen into the match and trying to see if we could move the ball with the front wheels of his wheelchair. (This was not easily done.) The kids quickly adapted their game by bringing out the yellow scooters so that all had the disadvantage of playing on wheels. Yes it was a magical and sacred moment when the group spontaneously decided to make the sacrifice needed so Brennen could be part of the group.
Cain asks God if he is his brother’s keeper, and God never answers the question. Thousands of years later, St. Paul in a letter to a newly forming congregation finally gives the answer, yes. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called to support each other in our journeys of faith. Each of us comes to Christ with our own strengths and talents our own weaknesses and disabilities. It is only when we choose to journey together, when we are willing to compensate for each other’s weaknesses and encourage each other in our times of weakness that the body of Christ is strengthened, the reign of God is realized,and the victor’s crown of eternal life is becomes accessible to all.