My Brother's Keeper

Dave Roney's essay appears as the Commentary to the March 16th entry in Consuming Fire, the daily devotional version of George MacDonald's Unspoken Sermons.

“He who does loves not his neighbor for deeper reasons than those of common parentage will cease to love him at all.”

“ one another: just as I have loved you” (John 13:34) came our Lord's new commandment to us—by “one another” He encompassed every person; “just as I have loved” included love sent out to the worst of men equally with the best of them, regardless of anything those beloved might think, or say, or do.  Every person without exception at every occasion and instant.  It is not generally my habit to speak in these commentaries of personal experience, but on this occasion I take exception, for it appears to me that a recent occurrence in my life is relevant and profitable to share.

During a recent missionary trip to Havana, Cuba, I was robbed of several hundred dollars, the money taken from my luggage while I was asleep or else out about; it was monies I had taken to give away, to use in helping my brothers and sisters.  When I discovered the theft a prayer immediately arose within me, that God would bless the thief and his use of the money, that somehow it would be a help to him, fall out to his salvation, would be the tool God would use to gather a thief-child unto Himself and make that poor child into a true son.  I knew that the man would never be able to escape his act or the shame attached to it (this is a crime he will never be able to purge from his memory).  I suppose that if he could he would return the money and beg forgiveness in order to soothe his conscience or, when shame has cast its dark shadow over his mind, he will in the future desire it.  Perhaps, though, in this life the thief will never repent.

What the thief could not know is that he was forgiven entirely from the moment I discovered his act, and that God had forgiven him before he was even born into the world.  Forgiveness is not, then, a thing he must in any way work to achieve; it is something which he can only accept.  Also unbeknownst to him is that when members of the little group that meets in our home each week to study MacDonald heard of the transgression they as well forgave him, gave thanks, and prayed for him, this stranger, injurious to me, yet a brother unknown.

This attitude may well seem to be all upside down to some readers.  As a matter of fact, one fellow in our home group, when my wife offered that in the group prayer they should thank God for the theft and pray that He would use the evil to produce good, exclaimed “Thank God?  But why?”  Yet it is not those who are spiritual who are upside down, it is the world; Dallas Willard explained it as people piloting a small plane upside down in deepest night without instruments, all the while supposing they are flying upright.  

You may say to yourself that the thief owes me the money; I say he owes me nothing.  I would have freely given it to him had he truly needed it and had but asked.  It was not my money.  Nothing is mine except my Lord.  The truth of it is this; I am the debtor: I am in his debt, to forgive him.  And my debt to him far surpasses any financial debt or other consideration which he may rightfully owe me, for that which he owes to me are only those things which are passing away.  Included in my debt to the thief is this; he is currently unlovely—and my glad duty is to love the unlovely until such time as he becomes lovely himself, at which moment he will love me even as I love him.  Then, then, he will love his neighbor as he loves himself, only better; then he will be becoming more like his Savior.

Our Lord, in the hour of His deepest and darkest suffering uttered “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing!” and concerning this, which is the “secret and hidden wisdom of God,” theApostle later said “Had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory!”  Did they know?  On a purely intellectual, emotionally charged plane we might suggest that they were fully aware; yet, spiritually, they were blinded.  My thief, did he know what he was doing?  On the same plane he did, yet with a darkened heart he could not know as you and I know, could not do what love of neighbor would guide him to do.  He is pitiful, broken, naked, he is the one lying by the roadside awaiting that Samaritan who would pour oil into his wounds, and provide for his needs.  I pray I am that despised half-breed helper, that I may give of my treasure and even my own life for my poor little brother.  It is not extraordinary for we who follow our Lord to have this attitude; it is the normal Christian life, abnormal to the world, wholly natural to us.  If a man loves only those of his own blood, or those who deserve his affection, then what part has he with Christ Jesus; for he loves even as do the Pharisees.

When the Son became the Child He became the Brother of every child of Adam without regard to their conduct or condition.  God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself; in humble and obedient service, let us be agents for His use in this reconciliation.  Our neighbor is every man, woman, and child, be they friend or foe, enemies toward us or unknown to us (such as my thief).  In Romans 1:14, St. Paul declares the matter, saying; “To the Greeks as well as the barbarians, to the wise as well as the foolish, I am a debtor.”  And what was the Apostle's debt?  Namely to both love and forgive all things, for “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.” 

And through this love of neighbors, the debt to them all, beyond emotions and words, to include the giving away of Christlike self, of possessions, of honor, of gain, of even life itself, to be living sacrifices unto God for them, or even to die as martyr-sacrifices if need be.  Or, to say, we must love our neighbor as our self without regard to anything in him, and thereby fulfill all that old Law with which Paul was most familiar; for the summation of the Divine Law is wrapped up in and made perfect by, and only by, Love.  And the perfecting of outgoing love is the perfecting of inward self, not only our self but that of our neighbor, brother, sister, enemy, the stranger, the friend, all people everywhere; in the end it is the reconciliation of brother to brother and man to God, of child to Father.