No other story could express the horror of what had happened to God’s creation than the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. When God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” Cain threw back in God’s face the words “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The rupture of the human community became complete. Cain’s parents had hidden from one another behind clothing. Cain disavowed any connection to his neighbor.
But God hears. God hears the blood of Abel crying from the earth. The crime could not be hidden.
I do not know what specific twisting of the human psyche leaves the people of Colorado once again in tears. But spiritually, those roots go deep into the soil shared with Cain that I am not my brother’s keeper.
The horror of Cain’s act was not because it was fratricide. Every killing is fratricide. To “love your neighbor as yourself” means to treat him or her as a member of your household, your kin, your family. We do not let family go hungry or homeless or unprotected.
“Love your enemies” is rooted in the same spiritual vision as the parable of the Good Samaritan and the teaching to invite to your banquet table those who cannot repay you. Everyone is your brother, your sister, your kin. Everyone bears the same family resemblance. We are all made in the image of God.
Colorado gunman James Holmes had a responsibility to see the patrons of that theater as his kin group. Just as we had the responsibility to see him as brother in whatever led up to the shooting – and just as we still have that responsibility now.
It is so much easier to make him out to be a monster, an enemy, an “other.” But hidden there beneath a profoundly twisted divine image is still a human being.
We have a responsibility to view Holmes as brother. Such a vision in no way acquits him of responsibility for his crime: in fact, precisely the opposite. We show him no respect if we make excuses for what he has done, if we do not hold him accountable. But the challenge here is to see our shared humanity.
Every crime has its root in the failure to recognize our shared humanity. When I drink and drive, when I speed through a changing light, when I tolerate a pedophile, when I curse my neighbor or my children, when I treat a waiter with contempt – in all these moments great and small the world is diminished. Humanity is robbed of one more piece of its fading nobility.
When party is more important than country, when my heart beats “My country, right or wrong” and marches off to unquestioned war, when the enemy is denied their humanity, when the civil rights of some are suppressed, and the poor or the undocumented are no longer my concern, we are stripped of our common humanity and our ultimate truth.
The world is better when we are humane. The world is better when we see our shared paternity in the eyes of the stranger. It’s a poor and faulty excuse to say, “I’m only human.” You are human! You bear the divine image! The meadowlark has one song, you can choose the song you will sing. Some of them – the best and most important ones – just take practice and courage.
Jesus was not the only person hanged upon a cross that day in Judea some 2,000 years ago. But his story was told and it speaks whenever any of us lie wounded and bleeding. Jesus reminded us to see our neighbor as brother, and his dying, broken form makes us all see what happens when we fail.
The Rev. David K. Bonde is pastor of Los Altos Lutheran Church, 460 S. El Monte Ave. For more information, call 948-3012 or visit www.losaltoslutheran.org.