Brother’s Keeper

55th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate

The man had intercourse with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, saying, “I have produced a male child with the help of the LORD.” Next she gave birth to his brother Abel. Abel became a herder of flocks, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought an offering to the LORD from the fruit of the ground, while Abel, for his part, brought the fatty portion of the firstlings of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry and dejected. Then the LORD said to Cain: Why are you angry? Why are you dejected? If you act rightly, you will be accepted; but if not, sin lies in wait at the door: its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it. Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the LORD asked Cain, Where is your brother Abel? He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” God then said: What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! Now you are banned from the ground that opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. If you till the ground, it shall no longer give you its produce. You shall become a constant wanderer on the earth. Cain said to the LORD: “My punishment is too great to bear. Look, you have now banished me from the ground. I must avoid you and be a constant wanderer on the earth. Anyone may kill me at sight.” Not so! the LORD said to him. If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged seven times. So the LORD put a mark on Cain, so that no one would kill him at sight. Cain then left the LORD’s presence and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden (Gen 4:1-16).

Am I my brother’s keeper? (Genesis 4:9).

It’s the question of Cain (Jewish Wisdom, Telushkin).

It’s the question of the expert in the law of the Good Samaritan parable (Lk 10:29).

If you act rightly, you will be accepted; but if not, sin lies in wait at the door: its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it (Gen 4:7).

The reflection within the reflection:

  1. Why are you angry?
  2. Why are you dejected?

Or said another way, what disappointment in you causes you to lash out and want to oppress others?

It is not enough to say I don’t lash out. It is not enough to say I don’t personally oppress. Much time and effort in our current age has been dedicated to understanding our deepest motivations, biases which are often translated into the three A’s I warn of frequently: Alliance, Advantage and Acquisition. Critical Race Theory (CRT) and its rejection is a horrifying example of a failure to rule over ourselves. A rejection of CRT is the rejection Cain makes of the Lord’s wish for him.

God then said: What have you done? Your brother’s blood(s) cries out to me from the ground! (Gen 4:10).

So the LORD put a mark on Cain, so that no one would kill him at sight (Gen 4:15b).

The mark of Cain serves many purposes:

  1. A distinction of not being God. A sinner, as us all.
  2. A distinction of being loved by God.
  3. A person protected by God despite the sin.

It is a very profoundly evil sin (ultimate of type and magnitude of instances):

  1. It has an immediate effect.
  2. It has a generational effect (de-mei, “Bloods”).

Since our overall topic this Lent is the Samaritan we must then see this teaching of Cain in respect to our most heartfelt love, our own Church and her members. Hear the reported words of Pope John XXIII (1881-1963), Prayer of Repentance:

We realize now that many, many centuries of blindness have dimmed our eyes, so that we no longer see the beauty of Thy Chosen People and no longer recognize in their faces the features of our first-born brother. We realize our brows are branded with mark of Cain. Centuries long has Abel lain in blood and tears, because we have forgotten Thy love. Forgive us the curse which we unjustly laid on the name of the Jews. Forgive us, that with our curse, we crucify Thee a second time.

There is legitimate difficulty with both the authenticity of this prayer and the subtle bias contained within the prayer (sorry!). I provided a link to a very thoughtful analysis of the prayer: https://gerrypalermo.files.wordpress.com/2022/02/1580-article-text-1715-2-10-20110525.pdf

Here is the deeper point.

We really don’t see our own desire to lash out and oppress. We don’t see our anger, sense of being dejected and our disappointments. But we have the 40 days of Lent to make a difference. We can master our passions. The Lord assured us of that in the Lord-Cain dialog.

Nostra Aetate, Vatican II document, takes us a step further but just a step. The story of Cain is an attempt to summarize our deep seated inability to see others as the other of ourselves.

We too must fold up our tents and continue the pilgrimage.

Reflection

Do we accept the Lord’s questions?

  1. What have we done?
  2. Where is your brother?
  3. Why is the blood crying out to the Lord?

Call Upon the Lord

At that time people began to invoke the Lord by name (Gn 4:26b).

Try not to worry. Just try to be good.

The Lord wants us to invoke his name as we struggle with our difficulties.

Peaec be with you,

Deacon Gerry

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