This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
EXILED TURKISH PREACHER OF PROGRESSIVE ISLAM IS THREAT TO ERDOGAN
New English Translation (NET)
The Story of Cain and Abel
4 Now the man had marital relations with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. Then she said, “I have created a man just as the Lord did!” 2 Then she gave birth to his brother Abel. Abel took care of the flocks, while Cain cultivated the ground.
3 At the designated time Cain brought some of the fruit of the ground for an offering to the Lord. 4 But Abel brought some of the firstborn of his flock—even the fattest of them. And the Lord was pleased with Abel and his offering, 5 but with Cain and his offering he was not pleased. So Cain became very angry, and his expression was downcast.
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why is your expression downcast? 7 Is it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.”
8 Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” And he replied, “I don’t know! Am I my brother’s guardian?” 10 But the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! 11 So now, you are banished from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you try to cultivate the ground it will no longer yield its best for you. You will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.” 13 Then Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is too great to endure! 14 Look! You are driving me off the land today, and I must hide from your presence. I will be a homeless wanderer on the earth; whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “All right then, if anyone kills Cain, Cain will be avenged seven times as much.” Then the Lord put a special mark on Cain so that no one who found him would strike him down. 16 So Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
From the tragicomedy of Eden the story teller takes us to serious violence; and again the story is equivocal. Does Cain’s bad attitude precede God’s disfavour, or is it caused by it? The latter seems more likely -there may be a primitive assumption that the Gods prefer blood sacrifice- and if so, God cannot shrug off responsibility for what happens. Indeed, even if Cain’s bad attitude is the reason for God not being pleased with him, perhaps some divine tact might have been in order?
The narrator is not concerned with this issue. He/she treats the matter as one of the basic inequalities of life. If it’s not this matter,there will be another. The key thing is to be able to deal with the anger one feels. “Sin is crouching at the door.” This is the first use of the word in the book. The disobedience of Adam and Eve is not called sin, but Cain’s killing rage is, perhaps because this scene takes place in the “real world” rather than in a mythical garden.
God’s response is meant to awake Cain’s conscience and the conscience of all killers, “Where is your brother?” and Cain’s answer is the answer of all killers whose consciences are dulled, “Am I my brother’s guardian?” A child reader knows the right response to this dismissive question, “Yes, you are.” Cain has tried to wipe out all trace of his hated brother but God tells him he has not succeeded; his brothers blood cries from the ground. Cain’s unnatural act has polluted the very earth that he cultivates. Rather than boosting the value of his offering, he has reduced it. The earth will offer him no home; he will be a wanderer.
Now the narrator shows his insight. he understands how terrible it is to be Cain, cast out from human and natural belonging. He allows Cain his protest against the justice of God, “My punishment is too great to endure.” And God listens even to this murderer and places a special curse on anyone who kills Cain (Death penalty freaks pay attention!). The mark of of Cain is not, as is often thought the sign of his infamy but rather the sign of God’s mercy and protection. God is concerned above all that killing should have an end.
There’s a wonderfully realistic story about Nasruddin, the mad mullah of Muslim legend. One day two little boys approach him. “We’ve been arguing over some glass marbles we found. There are twelve of them. I’m bigger and picked up more than him so maybe I should get more. But we’ve agreed that you will do it fairly.”
Nasruddin asks, “Do you want me to share according to my justice or Allah’s justice?”
“Oh, Allah’s, ” they agree.
So Nasruddin gives one boy eleven and the other one.
Life is not fair. But whether we intend to challenge that or accept it, we do well to keep the killing rage in check.
This wise and humane story was perhaps written around the same time as the Iliad of Homer which spells out the consequences of the killing rage of Akhillleus, who is also reacting to unfairness in the first instance, and later to the death of his beloved friend, Patroclus. Then, his killing rage is treated almost as a force of nature, consuming whatever gets in its way. The Iliad accepts that giving and receiving brutal force is part of the human condition. The Bible does not.