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“Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” This is what the Lord says to Cain. Cain is angry; he’s preparing to rage. His offering wasn’t good enough. He worked the ground, the ground the Lord cursed. But Cain made something of it, bringing forth fruit, and he brought it to the Lord. Only the Lord preferred Abel’s offering. The younger sibling was for the first, but not the last, time the favorite. “And the Lord had regard for Abel’s and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” These are harsh words – the Lord had no regard. “So Cain was very angry.” The Lord tried to talk him down. “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” Deal with it Cain, and how you deal with it will go a long way in determining how this will all play out. Anger leads to violence which leads to death. The age old story of fratricide—brother and sister killing sister and brother. The older brother’s disdain for the younger leads to anger, which leads to death. Unleashing a cycle of violence and hatred that culminates in the building of a tower. “Come let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face fo the whole earth.” Even though the word given to humanity was to fill the earth, which implies scattering, fear makes them want to stay in one place. They build a tower, a temple, a wall, to keep themselves in, to protect themselves from the Lord, to make a name for themselves. But this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. So the Lord scatters them, confusing their language, “and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.”
Since the beginning humanity has been afraid of difference, fearful of scattering, so from the beginning humanity has always built towers. From the beginning humans have perceived others as a threat, brother against brother, sister against sister. Even though the Lord says, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” We respond to the presence of the others with anger which leads to violence and hatred. Eventually, it leads to building walls so we can make a “name for ourselves”—making our name great, trying to convince the Lord to leave us alone. The Lord responds to our anger and violence with judgement and grace. The Lord marks Cain with a sign of protection, and the Lord tears down the towers and walls, pushing humanity out into the world. Gustavo Gutierrez interprets this as God’s judgement on the human tendency toward totalitarian oppression. The tower is the solidification of cultural ideology through same-ness. It means the oppression of the poor, like the Hebrew people in Exodus who were conscripted to be the brick makers, building towers means getting people to make bricks for us. The scattering allows the oppressed to give expression and voice to their situation, to speak in their own language. This is the act of grace, the tearing down that opens up the possibility for life.
This is what it means to be “pro life”—to be for life. To be for cultural difference, to be against towers and walls, to seek reconciliation and grace where there is only hatred. This is what it means to be a people of blessing, to be a people of the promise. Each of us is confronted, in the same way as Cain, with a decision: to be full of anger and fear, or to live as signs of hospitality and reconciliation. It’s a real choice, one we must continually make with each new day—to build walls or to tear them down. May we have the faith and courage to choose to be a blessing.
Thanks for this insight. The oldest stories can be the most contemporary.