One of the oldest questions in the world is “Am I my brother’s
keeper?” The Bible’s Book of Genesis brings this question to our
attention in the old story of Cain and Abel, handed down to
us from the earliest of times. If you remember the story, these
two sons of Adam and Eve got into a quarrel after God had
apparently accepted the sacrifice of one of the brothers but not
the other. The quarrel resulted in the murder of Abel by Cain,
and when God asked Cain what happened to his brother, Cain
replied with the snide comment, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
His retort to God has thus been handed down to us from
antiquity, yet it has never been completely answered: How far
am I to go in taking care of my brother? Are there any limits to
my responsibilities to him? And if so, what are they?
This is an important question in Freemasonry today. Our
Masonic tradition as well as our Masonic law make it clear that
each Mason has an obligation to care for his brother Mason, an
obligation that also extends to a Mason’s family. But what does
this obligation entail?
The answer to this question might just be found in the “Old
Tiler Talks” by Carl H. Claudy, written in 1925. Consider this
dialogue between a young Mason and the old tiler of his lodge:
“I am inclined to think that Masons do too much for each
other,” announced the New Brother.
“Who has been doing too much for you?” asked the Old Tiler.
“Why, no one, that I know of.”
“Well, who have you been doing too much for?”
“Well, er – I wouldn’t say I had been doing too much. But we
all do too much. It gets to be a burden sometimes.”
“What do you mean, burden?” countered
the Old Tiler.
“A burden is something heavy which you
carry, isn’t it?” asked the New Brother.
“You think what we do for our brethren
is a burden?”
“Sometimes it seems that way. Too many
calls on our time. Too many calls on our
sympathy. Too many calls on our charity.
Yes, I think it’s a burden.”
“Last week I walked to work,” answered
the Old Tiler. “I don’t usually because my
rheumatism says walking is too hard a job.
My legs,” his eyes twinkled, “are a burden
to me! But that day it was so bright that
the old legs forgot to growl, so I walked. I
saw a little lad of about ten looking after
a small child of about two, who toppled
on his nose and yelled. The ten year old
picked up the squalling baby and soothed
him, then put him across his shoulder
and staggered up the sidewalk with him.
I asked him, ‘Sonny, isn’t that child too
heavy for you?’ ‘Heavy?’ he answered me,
‘Heavy? Why, sir, he’s my brother.’
“Little brother would have been too heavy
for me – maybe because of my old legs and
perhaps because he wasn’t my brother!
The facts are that one weighed 60 pounds
and the other 30 pounds. The stagger and
the straining arms were facts. The cheek
flushed with effort was a fact. But two years
old was brother to ten, and that made him
‘not too heavy.’
“A burden is, after all, what we think it.
You would look desperately at the task of
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EXPLORING THE MASONIC MEANING
OF AN AGE-OLD QUESTION
by John L. Cooper III, Grand Master