Once I gave a talk on Saint Andrew. It was in Kenaston, Saskatchewan, in a church dedicated to Saint Andrew. At the end of my remarks, the parish priest opened the floor for questions. The first one I directed to him: “Why don’t they ring the bells at funerals any more?” The second was more interesting, though equally remote from Saint Andrew. A lad of eleven or twelve asked, “Why are there no dinosaurs in the Bible?” What a good question, I thought, opening as it does the whole area of modern science and scriptural truth. I told the boy that the Bible was concerned, not with the working of the physical world, but with what was most essential to human beings. But that statement invites another question: exactly what is essential to a human being? A glance at today’s reading provides an answer, for the Bible’s main message is about morality, about distinguishing what is right from what is wrong. It is the power to choose that distinguishes us from plants and animals. Their behaviour is instinctive, while man’s is—or should be—reasonable. Ezekiel reminds us of this in describing, at an individual level, what was the case with Israel as a nation, viz., evil actions are punished and virtuous ones rewarded, since they are the result of free choice. Ezekiel further notes that a good person may fall into sin, just as an evil one may seek forgiveness. This principle continues in the New Testament, in the parable of the two sons, one who breaks his word and the other who repents. In the same vein, Saint Paul invites us to “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” And how does this mind show itself? In upright behaviour: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”
It’s all very well for the preacher to tell people to be nice. That’s the burden of most sermons, is it not? But what does that mean in Canada, in Toronto today, 2020? An obvious starting point would be COVID-19 and its effect. We have been forced to develop what I may call a social awareness, in that my care, or lack of it, has immediate and serious consequences for others. (Or so it is reported by our medical experts, but such ‘immediate and serious consequences’ apply primarily to the very elderly or very vulnerable, and to impose such fear and isolation upon the whole of society for much longer will have deleterious and unforeseeable consequences. Editor).
Pondering this fact should lead us to realize that the same principle applies to all of our actions, for what I am as a person influences those around me and thus contributes to the well-being or deterioration of society as a whole. I can summarize all this by an axiom of theology: “there is no such thing as a private sin.” That tired old excuse for wrongdoing, “It doesn’t hurt anyone,” is false for sinful acts change who I am and so will, in one way or another, have their effect on people around me, even if only negatively, in that I am not available to them as they need me to be. For we are Christians, called to the imitation of Christ, “who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And so the proper response to the murderous Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is a resounding “yes!”