Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Are You Your Brother's (or Sister's) Keeper?

Published in Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan - The Fiji Times Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In Fiji the term “brother” (and “sister” for that matter) is used to demonstrate a closeness of relationship that is not necessarily based on blood ties. The phrase, “my brother,” often means closeness between friends. It expresses a bond based on shared identity, shared experiences – it is a celebration of commonalities. Brothers (and sisters) not by blood but perhaps by “soul”.

I have many “soul brothers” and “soul sisters”. These men and women come from different backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures and social status. Yet the term “brother” and “sister” means we are part of a family, a mataqali. I know that this is not a unique to me. Many, if not all of you have people that, although not related by blood, you refer to as “brother” or “sister”.

Even in our cultures we continue to seek out ways to forge relationships. The terms kai, naita, tau, vasu are used beyond their traditional understanding to create a relationship with the other – a sense of closeness, a connection.

The Girimitayas, had their jahaji-bhai, their brothers (and sisters) on which they crossed the kala pani and left their mother-land to what would, for many, be their new home and the mother-land of their descendants. This bond of shared experience, shared suffering and shared hopes and dreams may not have lasted much beyond the second generation but in its time was an important support network.

Perhaps one of the more thought-provoking questions in the Bible is that one asked by Cain. According to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, Cain had killed his brother because God had accepted Abel's offering, but not his own (Gen 4:3-8, Holy Bible). When the Lord inquired concerning Abel, Cain's response was: "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9)

This is a question we in Fiji would do well to ask ourselves today. Are we our brother's keeper?

Do we have a responsibility to watch out for and care for one another?

There is a saying in the Christian scriptures, “Anyone who claims to live in God's light and hates a brother or sister is still in the dark. It's the person who loves brother and sister who dwells in God's light and doesn't block the light from others. But whoever hates is still in the dark, stumbles around in the dark, doesn't know which end is up, blinded by the darkness.” (1 John 2:9-11 The Message)

You cannot be blind and be a good keeper. "Am I my brother's keeper?" confirms Cain's blindness. One cannot be a good keeper or mindful of other's welfare when they hold on to spite, bitterness, unforgiveness, jealousy, etc. If one claims to be kind, concerned, a lover of humanity, a peacemaker; yet clings to any of hateful attributes within him/herself, better that they not add hypocrisy to the lot by speaking about or marching for peace, justice or equality.

In his book “Stride toward Freedom, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. wrote that the person who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as the one who helps perpetrate it. The person who accepts evil without protesting against it, is really cooperating with it.

When he received the Nobel Prize for Peace, he said in his acceptance speech:

"Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.’ Deeply etched in the fibre of our religious tradition is the conviction that men are made in the image of God and that they are souls of infinite metaphysical value, the heirs of a legacy of dignity and worth. If we feel this as a profound moral fact, we cannot be content to see men hungry, to see men victimized with starvation and ill health when we have the means to help them…

… In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied in a single garment of destiny. All life is interrelated, and all men are interdependent. The agony of the poor diminishes the rich, and the salvation of the poor enlarges the rich. We are inevitably our brothers’ keeper because of the interrelated structure of reality."

King was inspired in his non-violent action for civil rights in America by Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent resistance to the British colonisation in India. Gandhi’s truth-force or satyagraha was not just a philosophy for the liberation of India but for the liberation of humankind, “My mission is not merely brotherhood of Indian humanity. My mission is not merely freedom of India,” he said. “But through realization of the freedom of India, I hope to realize and carry on the mission of the brotherhood of man.”

His words, “Humanity is an ocean”, if the few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty,” serve to remind us of the capacity for goodness that lies in each human being – in each one of us.

Brothers fight. Sisters fight. Brothers and sisters fight. This is sibling rivalry.

Psychologists believe that sibling rivalry comes from competition for parental attention, love, and approval. The amount of conflict depends on the perception of parents about the role of each child in the family , the personalities of the parents and children, the number and spacing of children in the family, outside resources available to the children, and parental beliefs about child rearing, including their attitudes toward gender, birth order , and competition. Sibling rivalry is also affected by the presence in the family of a special needs child, divorce or other family trauma, and ethnic and cultural attitudes toward family relationships.

How does sibling rivalry affect the brotherhood and sister hood of humankind?

Suggestions for parents to reduce sibling rivalry include:

· working to see each child as a unique individual with his or her own strengths and weaknesses

· spending some one-on-one time with each child every week

· encouraging children to develop their own interests and friends independent of the interests and friends of their siblings

· limiting the amount of care giving expected of older siblings for younger ones

· setting and enforcing firm rules about name calling, teasing, and physical aggression in the family

· praising cooperative behavior

· insisting that each child's personal possessions and privacy are respected by the other children in the family (

What would it mean to apply these suggestions to our absolute failure to watch out for and care for one another?

We persecute our brothers and sisters when we should be protecting them. We oppress our brothers and sisters when we should be empowering them.

Jesus once made a comment that took many by surprise. While he was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers showed up. They were outside trying to get a message to him. Someone told Jesus, "Your mother and brothers are out here, wanting to speak with you." Jesus didn't respond directly, but said, "Who do you think my mother and brothers are?" He then stretched out his hand toward his disciples. "Look closely. These are my mother and brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father's will is my brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 12:46-50 - The Message)

Those whom Jesus gathers around him are not marked by bonds of clan and kinship, blood and race – they a marked by obedience to the will that would have them love their neighbour, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and have compassion for the imprisoned. They are their brother and sister’s keepers.

Are you?

“Be Still, Stand in Love, Pay Attention”


Rev. J.S. Bhagwan is currently a student of the International Graduate School of Theology at the Methodist Theological University in Seoul, South Korea. Email:

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