Sunday, March 11, 2007

Cain and Abel

It's not exactly a Lenten meditation, but I was facilitating a Bible class this morning (I'm writing this on Saturday). The "class" is on DVD, and I give an introduction and then about twenty minutes of content afterwards, also attempting to answer any questions. We were looking at Genesis, and last week the matter of Cain and Abel came up.
"Why didn't God accept Cain's sacrifice?"
None of the commentaries really give a decent answer, mostly because the Bible itself doesn't. But I noted last week that it could just be one of those situations in the Bible where God deliberately reverses society's expected notions of order, rank, seniority, and so on. It happens again with Jacob (the younger brother) who "wrests" the birthright from his older twin, Esau (the one with the mess of pottage), and with Jacob's twin grandsons, Perez (who became Jesus' ancestor) and Zerah. And, of course, the people Israel themselves. According to Moses, "It was not because you are the greatest of peoples that the Lord has chosen you, because you are the least of peoples." God "chooses those who are bring to nothing those who are something, so that no human being may boast before God."
So it is all of a piece with God's ways throughout the Bible for God to "look with favor on Abel and his offering" and not on Cain and his.
The question came up again today, and the questioner had a book that indicated that some Jewish tradition saw the problem as Cain (the farmer) having brought a sacrifice of poor quality, the worst of his harvest, while shepherd "Abel brought one of the finest firstlings of the flock." That could be, but it is almost too "neat" to be that trustworthy. I mean, we desperately want there to be something wrong with Cain and his offering. That way, we can blame Cain, and feel like we know how to get on God's good side. For Cain's offering, though, to have been something good that was still not looked upon favorably--that leaves us not knowing the "rules," not knowing how to placate God, not knowing how to keep things under control.
In other words, it leaves us at God's mercy.
And until we have really heard the Gospel of Jesus, we tend to think that being left "at God's mercy" is a frightful matter.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Re Cain and Abel. The nunblog explanation of the Cain and Abel biblical account explodes my childhood indoctrination about the Wicked Cain killing his sweet docile little brother, Abel. Is there another spin which I need to know about Judas. As for me I rely heavily on the Mercy of God, no stones, no snakes or scorpions, just the Bread of Life.