(cf. James 2; 1 Corinthians 12)
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9)
What does it mean to keep? Today, we might ask: What is service? Service, simply, is doing works of love: it is being conformed to Christ. St. Paul and St. James agree on the need for service in a faithful Christian life; St. Paul wrote to the Galatians that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” (Gal. 5:6) The words of St. James explain how faith works through love: “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (Jas. 2:15-17)
Who is my brother? Today, we might ask: What is solidarity? Pope John Paul II defined solidarity in one of his encyclicals on social justice. It “is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good, that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we are all really responsible for all.” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38)
Our Lord said that he came to this earth not to be served but to serve. He is the perfect King, a King who loves his subjects so deeply and truly that he serves them. We, who are baptized into his kingship, exercise it when we love as he loved, when we serve as he served. Our Lord returned to Heaven where now he is served, both in our worship (liturgical and otherwise) and in our service to one another. Christ tells us plainly that when we serve one another, especially the suffering, the poor, and the neglected, we are serving him.
These works of love call us to solidarity, they challenge us to recognize Christ in one another, where we might least expect to find him. In its final document, Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council boldly proclaimed that, because God took on human flesh in the Incarnation, Jesus Christ united himself in some way to every single human being, simply because they’re human! (cf. GS 22) In our Lord’s solidarity with our human nature, we find the source of all human solidarity.
Hear the (paraphrased) words of a sermon of St. John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople in the 4th century:
Do you wish to honor Christ’s body? Then do not neglect Him when you see Him naked; do not while you honor Him with silken garments in here, neglect Him perishing of cold and nakedness out there. For the same Christ who said “This is my body,” … said, “You saw me hungry, and fed me not,” and, “Inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.” For in the Eucharist, Christ has no need of clothing, but a pure soul; but in our brothers and sisters, Christ requires much attention. (Homily 50 on Matthew, n. 4)
We’ve all heard the parable in Matthew’s gospel of the sheep and the goats before. This parable, like that of the Good Samaritan, is Christ’s clear answer to that selfish question of Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Yes, Christ answers, and in this one word “Yes,” Christ confirms that we are brothers and we must keep one another: that is, that we are in solidarity with one another, and we are obliged by faith and love to serve one another.