First of all, we might ask, 'who is our brother?' Jesus told His disciples ( Mark 3:35 ), 'whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother'! In this post-biblical era, then, we might ask, 'what is the will of God?' I'm not saying, by using the term 'post-biblical', that the Scriptures are passe'; by no means! The Scriptures, all of them, can and should be applied, to a greater or lesser extent to our lives, but as they were primarily relevant to the lives of Jesus' original audience, we must realize that Jesus' words were spoken to a specific audience, at a specific time in history, and for a specific reason. As to that specific reason, we may speculate, and by the end of this writing, a specific conclusion to this question, as well as others. might well be reached, but for now, we can assume that the people to whom Jesus spoke, and the time in which He spoke to them was in the first century anno domini.
The Scriptures, as we have noted, were written in a certain and specific context; that much is clear! As such then, we can certainly say that, though it is applicable, to whatever extent, to us today, its primary purpose was served in the first century!
Matthew's and Mark's Gospels are probably the two Gospel accounts that are the closest in literary relation to each other, in fact, you may have even heard, as I have, that Matthew patterned his after the existing Gospel of Mark, so Matthew's account of the words of Jesus are very nearly the same, and interestingly enough, but not surprisingly, this event only occurs in these two Gospels!
When reviewing these passages, it is very easy to apply these words to ourselves, and very aptly they should be so applied, but primarily, I believe, Jesus was speaking in a specific context when He uttered these words. As we have seen previously, the words of Scripture were written in a certain specific way, to a certain specific people, at a certain specific time, and for a certain specific purpose. Although we are undoubtedly a part of the family of God today, as well as they were back then ( for, as Jesus said, 'whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother' ); He said this to His contemporaries for a specific purpose, to remind them that it was not simply those who were born 'according to the flesh' that were His family, but that 'whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother'; it was those who were obedient to the heavenly command, to the Covenant, who were counted as family, and just because you had blood ties did not mean that you were His 'mother and brothers'.
So, from this we can ascertain that now, as then, our 'brother', if indeed the same as the 'brother and sister and mother' of Jesus, is he who does the will of God. This is true enough, but we may now ask, 'what is the will of God that Jesus was speaking of?' As important as it is to obey His Covenant, and to keep His Law; I'm not so sure that we can say with any certainty here, that Jesus was saying that in order to be part of the family of God, one must do these things, but that, as we saw above, the point of His words was that it was not those who claimed familial relation because of natural birth ( John 3 ) who were part of His family, but all those who did His will, whether related by blood or not.
The will of God here, had an eschatological aspect to it that we do not have today. This eschatological aspect was that 'He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him'. This was 'the will of My Father in heaven' of which Jesus spoke: it was their acceptance of Him as their Messiah that was the will of God! While some, that remnant who was truly waiting for their Messiah, received Him as their Messiah, and not just their brother 'according to the flesh', it was they who were counted as His true relations, and not those who just called Him 'brother'!
Is it the will of God that we, His people follow in His footsteps, obeying His Covenant, and calling Him 'abba, Father'? Doubtless! Does everyone of His children do this? Are we children of our heavenly Father only if we do this ( cry 'abba, Father' ), or are we His children because He fathered us, created us?
Many of the problems in the world today, and for the past millenia, really, ever since man came to be, are rooted in the development of the 'us versus them' mentality. Men are prone, by their very nature to think that they have all wisdom and knowledge, and if other men do not possess this same 'wisdom or knowledge', they are somehow 'children of a lesser God', and therefore below our station, and possibly only worthy of our negative attentions, if any at all!
Does this sound right to you?! To those who read the Hebrew Scriptures ( Old Testament ) without realizing the covenant context, and that these events, though undoubtedly historic, were simply a shadow of what was to come; as Paul put it, 'a tutor, to lead us to Christ' ( Galatians 3:24 ), it may seem that this God was a vengeful, hateful, and petty dictator, who ruled His people with an iron fist! The God of the Greek Scriptures ( New Testament ), on the other hand, through the Revelation of His Son, was a bit nicer; He was 'full of Grace', and only lost His temper a couple times, before finally dieing for the sins of His people, which sins had estranged them from His Father! Reading through the Hebrew Scriptures, then, we can almost see the foundation for this kind of mentality, a sort of 'me against the world' mentality that says that we, in some cases, need to do almost the exact opposite of what the world does, for we are to live in opposition to the world!
NO! This is our Father's world, and rather than being opposed to this wonderful creation that He placed us in ( don't get me wrong; we ARE to oppose what is wrong, and stand for what is right! ), we are to be a light and even saviors ( on a smaller, but 'greater' ( John 14:12 ) scale ) to this world which is crossed with so many scars, and full of so many hurting, estranged 'children'!
ARE we our brother's keeper?!
What does it mean to be our brother's keeper? Does it mean to defend and befriend only those, who like us, have reconciled with our heavenly Father, who keep the Covenant, and have found rest in Christ? Or does our 'brother' include even those who have been hurt, and for whatever reason, have been estranged from our heavenly Father? I would venture to say that, if we are not including the latter; we are not taking seriously our exalted position as the Body of Christ, and as 'healing leaves'.
Does this mean that we are to accept their works by which they have estranged themselves from the family of God? God forbid! We should not walk with them in their flood of dissipation, lest we partake of their consequences, but neither should we shun them, writing them off as 'a lost cause', abandoning them to their folly, and refusing to be Christ to them!
This will not be easy, but I believe that if we are to take seriously our part in this 'Kingdom Project', we must realize, and then act on that realization, that we ARE our brothers keeper, and that our 'brother' is inclusive of all with whom we come in contact, those whom God, for whatever reason, throws in our path!
Keeping in mind the fact that, through the power of the Holy Spirit of God, it is not all up to us; let us go forth in that Strength, loving our neighbor as ourself, and being our brother's keeper!
Charles Haddon Shank