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Speaking to the Soul: The Sin that Lurks

Speaking to the Soul: The Sin that Lurks

Week of 1 Epiphany, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 119:1-24 (morning) // 12, 13, 14 (evening)

Genesis 4:1-16

Hebrews 2:11-18

John 1:(29-34)35-42

Today’s first reading introduces us to the evil that lurks in the human heart. The passage tells the story of the world’s first two brothers, Cain and Abel. Both brothers make offerings to God, but God prefers Abel’s gift of animals to Cain’s gift of produce. When Cain is fuming with anger, God approaches him with a warning about Cain’s feelings of rejection, jealousy, and wrath. God says, “sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Far from mastering this sin, though, Cain plans and carries out the murder of his brother.

I always hear the story of Cain and Abel alongside a short story that we read in ninth grade. The story, called “The Scarlet Ibis,” helped me to recognize an evil that I’d never noticed or acknowledged within myself. The two main characters in this story were brothers. The younger one, nicknamed Doodle, had physical limitations, a weak heart, and developmental delays. The older one, known only as Brother, was frustrated with his younger brother’s inability to walk, run, or roughhouse. In the story’s last scene, Brother tried to force Doodle to row a boat and then fend for himself in a rainstorm.

The story includes a line that struck my thirteen-year-old heart. Brother confesses, “There is within me (and with sadness I have watched it in others) a knot of cruelty borne by the stream of love . . . and at times I was mean to Doodle.” For me, it was such a shock and relief to see this evil named: “a knot of cruelty borne by the stream of love.” I detected a deeply suppressed and denied form of that evil within myself. I’m so glad that I got to see it exposed in a story rather than letting it haunt me or grow behind the scenes of my life.

The sooner we recognize this “lurking” sin that God points out to Cain, or this knot of cruelty that Brother confesses, the better we will be able to love others. There may be deep within us an impulse to be cruel to those who are weak, and even to those we are bound to by love. I don’t know why human beings are this way, but when we recognize the knot of cruelty, we can surrender it, dismantle it, and let it go in the sight of God who accepts us as we are.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and assists with education, young adult ministry, and campus ministry at St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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Paul Woodrum

A puzzlement. Surely God knew the benefits of a balanced diet, even if all he got was the savor.

James Byron

“There may be deep within us an impulse to be cruel to those who are weak, and even to those we are bound to by love. I don’t know why human beings are this way …”

Possibly some quirk of our evolutionary heritage, maybe linked to casting aside those who’d slow down the herd. Or could be something else entirely. Either way, if it’s hard-wired, doubt we can dismantle it — but once recognized, we can certainly make an effort to counter it.

Ann Fontaine

Many think the story reflects the conflict between nomadic herders and settled farmers. Since the Hebrew people were wanderers early in their history – it was only natural to them that their God would prefer animal sacrifice. The desire to banish those who would fence and till the land – making it less available for grazing – is strong – even to this day. (see the musical “Oklahoma” – https://youtu.be/Vg5cwSBnyQU)

Mark Mason

Great point!
Gen 1-27, So God made man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Gen 2-5, …and there was not a man to till the ground. Gen 4-17, Cain builds Enoch.
So the first born of the ground-tiller is the first city builder? Sounds like the building blocks of civilization to me. Same theme?

Mark Mason

There is the issue of blood. Abel offered it and Cain spilled his brothers. Abel offered up life and Cain took it. It is by the blood of Christ we are made clean.
There is the issue of God’s justice. God didn’t accept Cain’s offering. God didn’t take Cain’s life. God didn’t resurrrect Abel. Is God Fair? He said that the Children of Israel would say that He wasn’t. Who would give counsel to the Lord?
What is obvious is that Cain didn’t accept God’s sense of fairness. Is that where sin lurked?

Leslie Marshall

I think God accepted Cain’s offering, he just didn’t favor it. And was disappointed. (as God is disappointed in me sometimes.)

It was what happened afterward that God didn’t accept. Cain lying to God’s face.

Lexiann Grant

As a vegetarian I’ve always been puzzled by the rejection of Cain’s offering. What did the storyteller omit? Abel’s is noted as being firstlings while Cain’s is described merely “an” offering. Did he come without mindfulness? Did he begrudgingly bring it? Were they the overripe fruits? This lesson appears to start before we are brought into it and I will always wonder what was really in Cain’s heart & mind…and God’s…here.

Leslie Marshall

“Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.” gen4.3

I think the Lord was displeased because he didn’t bring his ‘best-first’ fruits. (Abel brought the fat portions of some of the first-born of his flock).

God tries to work with Cain and offer him a way out….’why are you angry, why is your face down cast? If you do what is right will you not be accepted?’ gen4.6

More instruction…’but if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door, it desires to get the best of you, you must over come it!’ gen4.7

Cain then makes a choice.

And God, in his mercy, still reaches out to Cain…’where is your brother?’gen4.9

“I don’t know.” said Cain. gen4.9

I think lying to God was Cain’s unforgivable sin, not selfishness, not anger, not murder.

Shirley O'Shea

I guess in that time and place and culture, meat was a much greater sacrifice than was plant food. Many more resources – time, energy, etc. – go into the raising of livestock; meat is costly. Hence it must have been a more meaningful sacrifice to God, a greater expression of faith that God would provide to make up for the sacrifice. Coming from a working class background, I know how important it was to my father to be able to provide us with lean meat for our meals. It meant, to him, at least, that he was a good provider, a hard worker. While I respect vegetarianism, as someone with anemia I can attest that you can’t match red meat as an efficient means of getting easily absorbed iron into the system.

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