Punishment of Cain

Question: Why did the Lord not look favorably on Cain’s offering in Genesis 4?

Kirk Heaton, Topeka, Kansas

Answer: At one level, the answer to your question is mysterious, since God’s approval of Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s is not fully spelled out.

However, many today go beyond puzzlement and regard God’s action as arbitrary or perhaps unfair. This is because we often presume that the times in Genesis were primitive and next to nothing was known about God or how the human person was to relate to God or worship him. But elsewhere, the Scriptures say: “By faith Abel offered to God a sacrifice greater than Cain’s. Through this he was attested to be righteous” (Heb 11:4).

So, it was “by faith” that Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice.

Now, faith comes by hearing. Thus, God must have given a word, not recorded in the Genesis account, regarding sacrifices, which Abel could hear and heed but Cain did not, at least wholeheartedly.

The text also indicates another matter that may be lacking in Cain’s offering. While Abel offered the “first fruits” (literally, the firstborn) of his flock, it is not indicated that Cain offered the first fruits of his harvest. Thus, Cain erred by not presenting first fruits, and God did not regard his offering.

And thus, while speculative, we can conclude that Abel’s offering was favored by God not in a merely arbitrary way. To some degree, it would seem that Cain knew better and did not offer sacrifice wholeheartedly but that Abel did. But God does not reject Cain. He urges Cain to learn rather than be bitter. Sadly, as we know, Cain gave way to bitterness and envy, murdering his brother.

Question: Why do priests never have a homily on the text that begins with Romans 1:18? And why is this part of Romans never read at any Mass?

Robert Tisovich, Ely, Minnesota

Answer: For readers unfamiliar with the content of Romans 1:18 (and later), the passage amounts to a description of the wrath of God that comes down upon the disobedient who suppress the truth that God exists and is to be obeyed. Their darkness and experience of God’s wrath is further described as an attachment to homosexual practices and a large number of other social ills described. The description is vivid and certainly describes modern times.

To some degree, your first question is answered by your second. Priests tend to use the readings selected by the Church as the basis for homilies. However, your second statement is not wholly true. While not read on Sunday, the passage you describe is read on Tuesday of the 28th Week of Ordinary Time.

To be fair, many passages from the Bible are not included. Perhaps at the time the Lectionary was compiled, largely in the 1960s, the issues covered were not as critical as they are today.

All that said, I use the passage a lot in homilies and talks. Nothing is to prevent a priest from referring to it. It is most certainly a prophetic description of our times and firmly indicates the central problem as being the suppression of the truth that people plainly know in their hearts and that is set forth in the natural law of the “book” of creation. If the Lectionary is revised, such a passage should be more prominent.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.