Monday, September 14, 2009

Cain and Abel Revisted

"Am I my brother's keeper?"

It's an interesting line, especially when you consider it was spoken by someone who'd just committed fratricide. As the story goes, two brothers made offerings to God from the labor of their hands. One was acceptable, the other not, and in a fit of jealous rage, the one killed the other. When confronted about his missing brother, he said, in essence, "Why is it my responsibility to look after him?"

We haven't gotten so far from Cain and Abel as we might think. In the current debate about healthcare reform, there are some who seem eager to ask the same question. It's as though they consider economic hardship a sign of unworthiness instead of a fact of life.

I've always wondered what would have happened had God made the same inquiry of the murdered brother? What would Abel's response had been? There's nothing in the story itself that tells us, but somehow I think he might have known and been willing to say. As a matter of fact, I think he might have taken it for granted that he ought to know, because that's what brothers do: they make it their business to care for one another.

In our economy it's reasonable that we should have to pay something for healthcare, however little, if for no other reason than the fact that we're responsible for one another. The absence of resources no more relieves us of this than the presence of wealth. It can be argued that we're responsible only for ourselves but those who signed the Declaration of Independence didn't think so. They pledged to each other, not only their lives and sacred honor, but also their fortunes.

In the best of times, this is easy to forget; in the worst of times, it's easier to neglect. But our best often comes out when things are at their worst, and the care we offer one another in those times shows what we're made of. We know what our business should be, it's just a matter of doing it.
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