My brother's keeper

We urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle! Encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

Dear readers,

The whole of Europe was shocked by the bridge collapse in Genoa (Italy). How could a highway bridge suddenly collapse and kill 43 people? Uncommon suffering for countless people!  This drama was more than  stunning for me!

Of course everyone wondered: why did this happen?! Who takes the responsibility for this tragedy? Politicians immediately found an answer: responsible is the operator company for the Italian highways. And also the EU (European Community) with its austerity policy.

For Italian engineers, the disaster was a "predictable tragedy"!  So it said on the engineering website "ingegneri.info" (FNP daily newspaper from 16.8.18). The Italian newspaper "La Repubblica" wrote that already last year the Polytechnic Institute of Milan had discovered great weaknesses in the steel cables of the bridge (source: FNP v. 18.8.18).

I can´t get over the question: why didn´t anyone do something if the tragedy was predictable? Who has failed to prevent this disaster?  How could this "sin of omission" happen?

“Sin of omission”, this was an important issue for the apostle Paul. The events at his times were certainly not as dramatic as in Genoa today. It was not for death or life. But it was about sins of omission in everyday life. A long-running issue until today.

Paul must remind his fellow Christians that comfortable idleness, laziness and disorder are incompatible with God's order of life. Because they are unkind.  And possibly will harm others.

Paul addresses a fundamental problem of many people, including many Christians. Laziness and disorder are a lack of responsibility. Do you know these sentences: "This problem is none of my business!" Or: "Others are responsible for it." Or: "That's what others have to care about."?

Anyone who does not want to take responsibility out of sheer comfort can harm others - physically, materially, emotionally.  I can harm others by lazily folding  my hands into my lap and just do nothing. For me, this is "ethical neglect."

Paul expressly exhorts to take responsibility! Do not let things drag on. Rather taking responsibility for one's own life, for one's own doing. We are responsible for what has been transmitted to us. Be it as a boss or a chairman, as an employee, as a wife and husband, as a father, as a mother. The range of responsibilities can be continued for a long line.

I have to do everything possible to protect the people entrusted to me from harm. Wherever  I recognize wrong developments, I have to act. I can not just ignore predictable "catastrophes." Or put my head into the “sand”.  Instead  I should  become " my brother's keeper" indeed, contrary to what Kain said in Gen. 4:9!

What Paul has in mind is a simple and feasible everyday ethics, makeable for  everybody. It's not about pointing with your “moral finger” towards others. Paul´s priority is this: he wants to prevent others  from suffering through idleness, through laziness, through inner and outer disorder. This disorder can arise, for example, through fights for competence or mutual blocking in decisions.

Paul wants Christians to actively build "bridges" to their fellow human beings. In order to create stable and sustainable relationships. You cannot  achieve this if you put your hands in your lap and think: this is not my business!  It doesn´t concern me. Why can´t others do it? Not for me! –This thinking doesn´t show any love to others!

But Paul is not a theoretician as far as charity is concerned. At the same breath he invites us to comfort the faint-hearted, to carry the weak. – This means to care about those  who are depressed, whose lives have little meaning and joy. Comfort those who no longer see light on the horizon. And help the weak, the powerless, the sick. Do not forget the elders and the needy. Care for them too. Visit them in their loneliness, in their sufferings. - These are very concrete steps of responsibility for my fellow human beings. Furthermore to be responsible for those who live on the edge of society. And that's just not possible if I leave my hands in my pockets.

For Paul this topic must have been of critical importance. At the end of his letter (V. 27), he writes: "In the name of the LORD I beg you to read this letter in front of all in the church.” These short exhortations should not be overlooked or omitted! Paul was not only concerned with theological issues, but with everyday life´s ethics!

It was always important to Paul to mirror his readers with the Lord Jesus Christ.  He, the Son of God, the Messiah, never passed by the problems of his followers.  He never closed his eyes and said: it's none of my business! Is not my problem! EVERYTHING touched him, EVERY need, EACH misery. He went so far as to expiate the guilt of all on the cross of Golgotha. Voluntary! He did this as well for the guilt of those who close their eyes still today. Which, through their loveless idleness bring harm to others.  Jesus said: I take the  responsibility for you as well!

Jesus Christ is the guardian of his people. "I am the good shepherd," he says (John's Gospel 10:11). He cares thoughtfully  for every person, for you and for me. I think, that we owe this kind of mindfulness, to our next as well. To say it with Paul (in verse 15b): "Always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” Let's make an effort, and to get our hands out of our pockets and take responsibility where it is transferred to us. We owe it to others and to God.

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© 2020 Hans-Peter Nann, Frankfurt am Main