Monday, August 29, 2016

Genesis Notes: Life Outside Eden

GENESIS 4:1-26
Now that we've looked ahead to see the fulfillment of God's promise, we'll return to Genesis itself where Adam and Eve have been expelled from the Garden of Eden and there is trouble outside of paradise.

CAIN AND ABEL

Cain and Abel with offerings; Cain killing Abel. English, 15th century.

Something I always wondered was why Abel's offering was acceptable and Cain's was not. I never noticed before that Abel's is described slightly differently until I read more carefully.
Cain's offering doesn't seem to be as impressive. It must have represented Cain's attitude towards God. Perhaps it was given in a perfunctory manner. Perhaps it was given grudgingly. Perhaps Cain consciously withheld the best of his harvest for himself and gave some of the less desirous or useful fruit in offering to God. It is important to recognize that God isn't arbitrarily picking one offering over another. He sees first the condition of the man's heart, then his offering. Abel worshipped God appropriately, so God had regard for him and his offering. Something was wrong in Cain, so God rejected his offering.
We see now also the same pattern of behavior that started with Adam and Eve, although at least they didn't sass God. Reading this with "new eyes" I found myself almost shocked at Cain's attitude when talking to God after murdering his brother. Also, it never occurred to me that Abel's blood "crying out" was any more than an expression. Here we see it has complexity of meaning.
God is giving Cain an opportunity to confess his sin and be accountable for it, just as He had done with Cain's parents in Eden. A Father's love always wants to hear an explanation of how things went wrong.

Cain lies to God, and then he becomes sarcastic. He disavows any responsibility for his brother's welfare, throwing off any constraints on his autonomy. In his pride, Cain has chosen separation from God and from men.

The blood cries out. It is alive. Although Abel has been murdered, somehow his life has not been completely snuffed out. Throughout the rest of Scripture, blood will have potent meaning for man's life, both natural and supernatural. It will come to represent the life of man, and, liturgically, the means of atonement for man's sin ("the life of the flesh is in the blood - it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life" Lev.17:11). Finally, in the Eucharist, it will become the presence of Christ in man.
Cain doesn't show any remorse or even regret. His primary concern is that he will suffer under his punishment and that someone will kill him. In this, he reminds us of Adam and Eve, who also showed no regret in Eden.
All quoted material is from Genesis: God and His Creation, which I originally read free at Catholic Exchange's "Catholic Scripture Study," since discontinued.

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