Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” (Genesis 4:9)
It’s as old as the origins of the human race, roots sinking deep into the early pages of Genesis. The first man and woman became one as the creator intended and brought two boys into the world. Those boys grew up and one killed the other. As we make our way further into the biblical story, things don’t get much better.
Jacob was the younger twin, a mama’s boy. The older Esau had the doting affections of his Father. Jacob had lousy boundaries, constantly getting into Esau’s business, stealing his birthright, deceptively robbing his blessings from Isaac.
Joseph was given a gift. The other eleven boys got nothing. They despised his colorful coat and they despised him. It wasn’t just the coat. Joseph had dreams that suggested that his brothers would bow to him. Lacking good judgment in this matter, Joseph told his brothers about the dreams. They eventually sold him to a caravan of traders and made up a story about his death to tell their father.
Moses led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt. Moses was at the head of the line when the waters parted and the people crossed the Red Sea. Clearly, Moses had a gift, a calling – but his brother and sister began to feel that they needed a cut of the action. What made Moses so special? They challenged their brother. God afflicted Miriam with leprosy and brought an end to their squabbling.
Let’s not forget Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas. Corrupt priests. These brothers were religious bad boys and a source of shame to their Father. And then we have brothers Absalom and Amnon, sons of David. Sexual abuse in the family provoked Absalom to kill his brother.
Fast forward to the New Testament. Even among the twelve that Jesus chose as his closest followers, there were two brothers who conspired to seek the place of honor. They made a quiet bid for special box seats in eternity. Jesus had a nickname for them: “sons of thunder.” That ought to tell us something.
The list could go on and on. The landscape of the Bible is littered with fractured relationships between brothers and sisters. It appears that the worthy models are easily eclipsed by the examples of jealousy and brokenness and ill will.
And yet, when we look for language to describe the new community of faith that Jesus brought into existence we consistently find one prevailing image: brothers and sisters. Here and there we find “membership” language in the Bible when it speaks of the church. But we can’t escape the language of family – especially brothers and sisters. Sibling language is used time and time again.
Where is your brother? It’s a good question. It’s good for those of us who like Cain are alienated from our own blood, brothers and sisters of the flesh. But it’s good for those of us who claim to know Christ but remain strangers to other believers. Do we know our brothers and sisters? This week we’ll ponder what it means for us to be brothers and sisters, and why that relationship is sometimes so very difficult for those who claim God as Father.
Father God, help us to recognize our brothers and sisters. And then turn mere recognition into love. By your grace and the gift of your Spirit you have brought us onto your family. May our claim to love you be evidenced by our love for each other, in Jesus’ name. Amen.