Where Is Your Brother?

Two boys quarrels

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 four 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. And it creates amazing possibilities for our understanding of the very purpose of our faith; to transform what can all too often degenerate into mere religion into the exciting and never ending amazement of become “by grace what Christ is by nature.”

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 Abel was a shepherd.

Look at the passage in Genesis:

Cain said to Abel his brother, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me.” Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him.

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! And Cain has no excuse for his jealousy against his brother. Cain knew the kind of offering to offer God, but he chose to ignore that wisdom and insist on his own way. In other words, Cain wanted God to change for him rather than him change for God. This is always at the heart of our own weakness in practicing the faith well.

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. As Great Lent progresses, why not determine to embrace a Purposeful Orthodox way of life by energetically practicing the three great disciplines of the Fast: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. It isn’t too late to start even today!

P.S. Last week we told you about a special project we here at Faith Encouraged Ministries want to get underway. It is the 13 week Video Series meant to introduce the average English speaker to Orthodoxy. Our goal is to do this production so well that parishes will see it as a powerful tool to help them be present as an Orthodox witness to their cities. Please pray for this project. We are excited about the possibilities and will have some concrete ways for you to help soon!

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