God looked down on his servant
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
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
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