1 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 And 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.”[d] 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?”
10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Cathy Campbell, a Canadian priest, reminds us:
Food is at the heart of human culture. It is a part of all our lives. We each eat every day, and hopefully more than once a day. It is part of our material life as day six creatures, yet it also opens us to the Sacred… Our food ways reflect our relationships: with the earth, with each other, and with God.
Family meals can be amongst the happiest things we do. Perhaps, this is why the story of Cain and Abel is so sad and so troubling.
Cain is the arable farmer and Abel the shepherd, and between them they reflect two forms of stewardship. We are told that the Lord does not have equal regard for the fruit of their labours, and jealousy overcomes Cain, even though God warns him of the risk. Like his father before him, Cain fails a test, oversteps the limits, lets sin in, distances himself, denies responsibility and so is cast out of favour.
Cain is a bad farmer in both senses of the word ‘bad’. Conversely, his brother, with whom he does not see himself as being in any meaningful relationship (‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’), is a good shepherd. Cain resents the success, productivity and divine acceptance of his brother’s pastoral gifts, so plans and executes his murder. It is all vaguely familiar and the similarities between Abel and Christ are striking. Jesus undoes the sin of Adam, but he also has to deal with Cain and all who follow him in the paths of violence and murder.
Christ, good shepherd, who laid down your life for us, restore table I fellowship to our fractured society until that day when your whole family dines together in your eternal kingdom. Amen