Monday, February 16, 2009

The LORD put his mark on him, to protect him.

At the end of our last daily reading, on Saturday, the LORD God banished the man and the woman he had created from the Garden of Eden, which he had created especially for them, and placed at the gates of the garden two cherubim with flaming swords flashing back and forth to prevent them from entering again.

After they left the garden, the man had relations with his wife, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. She said, “With the held of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” Later, she gave birth to his brother Abel.

When they grew up, Cain and Abel lived chose very different paths of life. Abel was a shepherd, Cain a tiller of the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some fruit of the land as an offering to the LORD, while Abel brought some of the firstborn of his flock. Cain was resentful because it seemed that the LORD looked more favorably on Abel’s offering than on his own. The LORD spoke to Cain. Why do you look downcast? Why do you feel resentment? If you do what is right, your gifts will be accepted. If you do not, then sin is a demon lurking at your door. It desires to possess you, but you can be its master.

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out into the fields”, and while they were in the fields, Cain attacked Abel and killed him.

Then the LORD called out to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know”, he answered. “Am I my brother’s guardian?” The LORD answered, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground, which received your brother’s blood shed by your own hand. From now on, whenever you work the soil, it will no longer yield crops for you. From now on, you will be a nomad, wandering restlessly about the earth.”

Cain spoke to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear! You are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your sight. I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and those who wish to settle and plant crops will find me and kill me.”

But the LORD said, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, he will be avenged sevenfold.” Then the LORD put his mark on Cain, lest anyone kill him on sight.

Adam had relations with his wife again, and she gave birth to another son, whom she named Seth. “God has granted me another child”.

The conflict between Cain and Abel is a conflict between two disparate cultures – farming and ranching, and, two civilizations – nomads and city dwellers. As this is being written, people from throughout the Middle East and beyond have gathered to remember Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, the grandson of the Prophet, at his burial place, the Mosque of Husayn at Karbala.

By some coincidence (if there are any in God’s plan), we have a President whose middle name is Hussein -- a different spelling of the name of the Prophet’s grandson – and who has spoken of his Muslim cousins in the family of his stepfather. On the other hand, some of his ancestors in his mother’s family were slaveholders, and (again by coincidence) his blood relatives include the latest former president and vice-president, as well as the vice-presidential candidate of the other major. party in the November election. It was a very small world, in the days when Adam and Eve had their three sons, and a violent one, even then. It is not a very much bigger one now, if genealogists can demonstrate that President Bush, President Obama and Governor Palin are all cousins. Let us pray that the cherubim can be removed from the gates of Eden, and the world can be a real family once again.

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