Whether you are a strict Bible-believing Christian, someone who thinks many of the Old Testament stories lack some historic credibility, or a person who doesn’t want to be associated with any specific religious tradition, there is no denying this:

The Bible has affected the course of history for many centuries.

That’s because there are so many truisms and universally accepted “best practices” about the human condition displayed in the characters and tales. For instance, Treat others as you would have them treat you. A man cannot serve two masters. All things work together for good. Thou shalt not kill.

So we can learn a great deal from Scripture about how best to live or what to expect out of life if we try to live the right way.

That leads me to what I think is the most important question asked in the Bible and probably one of the most important questions ever asked, period. It is found in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 4, verses 8-10.

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the LORD asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” God then said: “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!”

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Detail from "Cain Killing Abel," Daniele Crespi (1611)

Detail from “Cain Killing Abel,” Daniele Crespi (1611)

Isn’t that the question upon which all of Scripture is based? Isn’t that a question our parents and, indeed, all of the authorities in society try to pose while trying to teach us how to live civilly and responsibly from the time we are very young?

If I can dare to step out on what I think is a very strong limb here, I want to answer: Yes, I am my brother and sister’s keeper. Each of us is.

I thought of that when I recently heard a story about a man who learned one of his co-workers might have done something wrong and probably more than unethical, instead bordering on illegal. He knew it was wrong. But if the people who were hurt could be reimbursed without anyone having to kick up annoying and attention-grabbing dust, he was fine with that.

“It’s not my job to keep an eye on my co-workers,” he said.

I think it’s our job to keep an eye on everyone, not with suspicion but with awareness. If someone does something wrong, we should notice and make sure the proper authorities are informed. If someone is hurt, we should stop and try to figure out how to treat their pain. If someone is hungry or poor or ill or tired or cold, we should ease them.

That is why we have an obligation to make sure every child has access to healthcare and an education and why we should care that people find jobs and a place to sleep at night. And why we shouldn’t concern ourselves just with the poor in our immediate community but also those in Africa and Central America, or with those who suffer injustice in China or the Middle East, or with those who fear for their lives in Mexico or the America’s inner cities.

Detail from "Cain Killing Abel," Daniele Crespi (1611)

Detail from “Cain Killing Abel,” Daniele Crespi (1611)

There is more.

As a Catholic Christian, I think being my “brother’s keeper” is an edict that goes beyond just helping ease pain or difficulty. We aren’t called simply to be there for the downtrodden but instead have to be present even to those who seem to be doing all right.

It’s not a matter just of lifting someone from the “gutter” to level ground. Being my brother’s keeper – helping him to enter heaven – can have much to do with building someone up from level ground to something even greater.

I find my inspiration from one of my favorite scripture passages from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chapter 14, verses 12-13 and 17-19:

So each of us shall give an account of himself [to God]. Then let us no longer judge one another, but rather resolve never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit; whoever serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by others. Let us then pursue what leads to peace and to building up one another.

Someday we will come face to face with God. And when we do, God will challenge us with, I believe, this question: Did you love my Son, Jesus?

Maybe you don’t think the question will be posed in quite that way. Okay, perhaps the questions will come in different forms, some of those other “best practice” questions from the Bible:  Did you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned? Did you ease anyone’s suffering?

Did you put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of other people?  Did you pursue peace and build up other people instead of making life more difficult for them?  Did you make the world a better place?  Did you do what was right?

How would you answer those questions?

And to your answers, God may reply:

But, my child, you were supposed to be your brother’s keeper.