Homilette for Monday, February 16, 2009

Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 4:1-15.25; Mark 8:11-13)

The story of Cain and Abel has been noted as an anthropological explanation of the enmity between farmers and herders. We can also see it as a model for sibling rivalry. Although we may expect brothers and sisters to be the best of friends, they often compete with one another. The reasons are obvious. Each desires his or her parents’ utmost attention but is often forced into the back seat. Perhaps the last-born child receives inordinate affection because the parents are tired of disciplining. Or perhaps the eldest through constant parental prodding becomes an overachiever whose accomplishments the second cannot match.

In the fourth preface for weekday masses, the priest prays that God has no need of our sacrifice. Indeed, God does not ask sacrifices from Cain and Abel. Responding to an instinctual impulse, the elder brother makes his harvest offering. Possibly out of imitation, Abel serves up a lamb. The text does not explain why Cain’s gift is rejected, but it is not hard to imagine a reason. Too often sacrifices to God are half-hearted. For example, many make feeble attempts during Lent to refrain from sweets. Also, as the standard critique of Friday abstinence held, some people give up steak only to dine on lobster!

Cain reacts to God’s preference of Abel’s sacrifice by murdering him. It is no impetuous act but methodically arranged to indicate the depth of the elder brother’s hatred. As the Lord takes notice of the act, we discover what God really expects of us. Our sacrifices are not important; we must strive harder to live in peace with all our brothers and sisters.