Ah, the joys of sibling rivalry! My daughters (I am a dad who has all girls. After all, why mess with perfection!) are a joy to watch. As my older daughter recites her activities of her day, my three year old immediately pipes up with the accusatory question: “What about me?” She simply cannot allow big sister to suck up all the attention.
To watch siblings simultaneously love and compete with each other is a regular invitation to witness the mystery of both our greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses. We human are capable of both selfless love AND absolutely ugly selfishness; sometimes all in the same moment! Amazing.
But that shouldn’t surprise us. After all, we are made in the image of Him Who IS Himself the very Source of Love and freedom. He is not existence; He is the Cause of existence. That is unimaginable freedom. But He is also the very Source of Love. In fact, the scripture declares “God IS love.” So, the infinite joining of perfect freedom and perfect love in God create amazing possibilities for His creation.
In our Scripture Lesson today in Genesis 4:8-15 we read the story of two brothers; and of the very first murder. You know the story of Cain and his brother Abel. Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve born on the other side of Paradise; the other side of the Fall. They grew up hearing stories of mom and dad in the Garden. And they learned from their parents of the intimate relationship with God lost when their parents fell for the lie of the snake. They also experienced God’s gentle love in that they still hear His voice. Cain was a farmer and able was a shepherd.
To make a long story short, one day the true nature of both men was made clear to themselves through the act of offering to God the worship each offered. Abel’s worship was accepted by God, but Cain’s worship was found to flow from a defective place. Cain was both embarrassed and angry! And then he murdered his brother! He killed Abel in a field, perhaps even the field Cain had farmed himself.
God confronts Cain and asks him about his brother, and Cain utters those famous, lying, words when God asks Cain “Where is your brother, Abel?” And Cain lies to God and says “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” Of course the answer to Cain’s question is “yes, you are your brother’s keeper.” The very fact that he said this revealed his heart, not to God; God wasn’t the One in the dark here, but to Cain himself!
Today, you’re life is on a trajectory. You are moving; either purposefully or haphazardly, toward conclusions and consequences all within your created power of freedom. The path offered to you by the faith is a path filled with the spiritual medicine of self-awareness and sober honesty. To the extent you embrace this wisdom, this will be the extent you will exercise the awesome power of your freedom in life-giving ways. To the extent you exercise your freedom poorly, you will watch as you enslave yourself to patterns of life that reduce your freedom and pollute your love. And you will be blind to yourself, all the while blaming everyone around you for your troubles. You will be following in the footsteps of Cain.
During this Great Lent why not embrace the wisdom of fasting, prayer, and alms giving to exercise your freedom in life-giving ways instead of the thoughtless pattern of “I can do what I want.” After all, if you don’t exercise, you get weak, right? God has blessed you with both freedom and love. Unless you mature these gifts, they will turn you into someone you don’t recognize. And the tragedy is you don’t have to end up like Cain. You can, through wisdom and spiritual labor, grow up and be in the likeness of your Awesome Creator, by His grace!