Monday 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. It can also be seen as a model for sibling rivalry. Although we expect brothers and sisters to be the best of friends, they often compete with one another. Reasons for the competition are not hard to imagine. Each desires the parents’ utmost attention but often cannot achieve it. 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 parents cannot cease praising.
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 also not hard to suggest a reason here. Too often sacrifices to God are half-hearted like the feeble Lenten penances that are abandoned before the end of the first week. Also, as the old critique of Friday abstinence maintained, 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 most expects of us. Beyond our sacrifices we must strive ever harder to live in peace with all our brothers and sisters.