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Rowing With Michael

Verse 3: Cain and Abel

 
God looked down on his servant Abel. Alleluia.

Said, “I like what you put there on that table. Alleluia.

“You better not brag to your brother, Cain. Alleluia.

“If you want to live to make an offering again.” Alleluia.

 

What nice thing did God do for the murderer, Cain?

 

I don’t know how people imagine that the Bible supports capital punishment when we have this story in the Bible’s first book. God didn’t take revenge on Cain. He did send Cain into exile, but he did something else. When Cain protested that everywhere he went people would try to kill him, God put a mark on Cain so people would know they’d be in real trouble if they did anything to him. (It’s a little puzzling where all these people that Cain was afraid of were supposed to have come from. But, as I tell my Confirmation class, it's a story.)

 

I think good people let themselves off way too easily when they read this story. We tend to imagine that it’s evil versus good, the bad guy Cain against the good guy Abel. Lately we tell the same story--the good country against the evil empire. Sin isn’t like that, and it ought to have been obvious from the first “sin” story in the Bible. St. Paul had it exactly right when he said in one man, Adam, all sinned. That means Abel was a sinner, too.

 

Of course, we know we’re sinners. We might even admit that we have feelings of envy, like Cain. But we’re pretty sure we wouldn’t go so far as to kill a person out of envy. So we manage to hide from ourselves our complicity in much of the evil around us. I think this story could use another look.

 

Cain obviously was very mad at Abel. Why wasn’t he mad at God for not accepting his gift? Abel didn’t do anything at all to Cain. Or did he? I can imagine Abel, just like a brother or sister, trying to be helpful and saying, “Well, if you’d offer God the best products of your labors, like me, God would accept them.” Or even: “My gift is better than your gift. Nah nah nah nah nah!”

 

How often have we given advice when comfort was needed? How often have we thought that we could encourage someone by comparing him or her with someone else? The first sin was trying to be like God and eating from the tree of “knowledge of good and bad.”  The second sin—Abel’s sin—was attempting to use that knowledge, setting oneself up as the decider of good and bad, taking on an air of superiority, assuming for oneself a right to make judgments on others, to make comparisons.

 

Conceivably, it could have been different—but hardly. That’s the burden, the Original Sin, that weighs us down almost from the moment we begin to become aware of who we are. Jesus was surely aware of himself as a human being, but his awareness of God overwhelmed his whole being and saved him from the sin of pride. When someone addressed him as “Good Master,” he retorted, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” What did God expect of Cain? Not that he should be like Abel or as good as or better than Abel, but “If you do well, you can hold up your head.”

 

On to Very Old Folks

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