Reading: Genesis 4
Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, ‘With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.’ 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 But Abel also brought an offering – fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. 6 Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’
Augustine realised that some human failings are especially detrimental to spiritual growth, regardless of one’s faith and convictions. They are dangerous because they are the reason behind many sinful actions, unjust accusations, and immoral practices. Envy and satisfaction at another’s misery, so familiar to some people, are chief among them.
"When a person in wretched circumstances envies one more fortunate, or one who is successful in an enterprise jealously injures another because he fears the other will catch up with him, or is chagrined because that person already has. Or it may simply be pleasure in the misfortunes of others that tempts people to crime: this is the pleasure felt by those who watch gladiators, and anyone who laughs at and mocks other people. . . . This is what happens when anyone abandons you, the fountain of life, the One, the true creator and ruler of the universe."
It is interesting to note that although Augustine wrote this passage after his conversion and mainly about his past, he used the present tense—perhaps to show that the danger of which he speaks is still current, affecting believers and nonbelievers alike. Envy was an integral part of the human experience since time immemorial, as evidenced by the tragic story of two brothers in Genesis: Cain and Abel. Envy can lead to the most despicable of crimes; it gives birth to hate, spitefulness, happiness at the misery of others, and disappointment at their successes.
We all wish this was not our reality. The brother of the Prodigal Son could not find it in himself to be happy about his kin returning home. When we cannot feel joy at our neighbour’s better health, bigger bank account, and greater recognition or popularity, we are like that son who never physically left his family homestead but became so spiritually distant. We too are not truly home when we do not stand up to defend the wrongly accused, even if nothing has been proven yet, and feel somewhat satisfied because of their predicament, because they were too well off thus far.
Lord, we confess overcome our resentments of others, our envious thoughts and attitudes, and our rivalry and suspicions. May we come back to the Father of true love who is waiting for us. Amen.