18 February 2019
The man had intercourse with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain. ‘I have acquired a man with the help of the Lord’ she said. She gave birth to a second child, Abel, the brother of Cain. Now Abel became a shepherd and kept flocks, while Cain tilled the soil. Time passed and Cain brought some of the produce of the soil as an offering for the Lord, while Abel for his part brought the first-born of his flock and some of their fat as well. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering. But he did not look with favour on Cain and his offering, and Cain was very angry and downcast. The Lord asked Cain, ‘Why are you angry and downcast? If you are well disposed, ought you not to lift up your head? But if you are ill disposed, is not sin at the door like a crouching beast hungering for you, which you must master?’ Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out’; and while they were in the open country, Cain set on his brother Abel and killed him.
The Lord asked Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I do not know’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s guardian?’ ‘What have you done?’ the Lord asked. ‘Listen to the sound of your brother’s blood, crying out to me from the ground. Now be accursed and driven from the ground that has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood at your hands. When you till the ground it shall no longer yield you any of its produce. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer over the earth.’ Then Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear. See! Today you drive me from this ground. I must hide from you, and be a fugitive and a wanderer over the earth. Why, whoever comes across me will kill me!’ ‘Very well, then,’ the Lord replied ‘if anyone kills Cain, sevenfold vengeance shall be taken for him.’ So the Lord put a mark on Cain, to prevent whoever might come across him from striking him down.
Adam had intercourse with his wife, and she gave birth to a son whom she named Seth, ‘because God has granted me other offspring’ she said ‘in place of Abel, since Cain has killed him.’
The Pharisees came up and started a discussion with Jesus; they demanded of him a sign from heaven, to test him. And with a sigh that came straight from the heart he said, ‘Why does this generation demand a sign? I tell you solemnly, no sign shall be given to this generation.’ And leaving them again and re-embarking, he went away to the opposite shore.
“Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you, for your burnt offerings are before me always.”
In my reflection today, I point to another parable that is probably very well-known to us – that of the Widow’s offering of the 2 coins found in Mark 12:41-44. In that parable, the message is clear that in the eyes of God, offering 2 little coins means everything to God, if it is everything you have left to your name on planet earth, versus giving 2 million gold bars if you have 2 billion more in reserve somewhere collecting dust. It is therefore simple and clear – God does not look at the absolute value of our offering to Him but in relative terms. In fact, God does not consider our offering, in and of themselves, at all … be it in our gold, our time nor our talents. He considers instead, our sincerity. In God’s reckoning, he looks at the sincerity in our hearts in what we offer Him.
Do we give him sincere adoration in prayer, or do we hope to gain His favor when we praise and worship Him? Do we offer him authentic service in Ministry or do we or put on a good show of our ‘devoutness’ to gain the adulation of men and seek privilege in Church? Do we offer him true sorrow and repentance for hurting our brothers and sisters when we fail to love them as God did, or do we hope to avoid retribution and punishment? Are we truly grateful for all God has given us, including the crosses in our lives, or are we grateful to God only when He has granted our wishes?
In the story of Cain and Abel, let us examine again the specific offerings brought to God:
“Cain brought to Jehovah an offering from the fruit of the ground. Abel, he also brought from the firstborn of his sheep, their fat portions”. (Genesis 4:3-4).
In the ancient cultures, people were not supposed to bring just any old ordinary fruits, grains, and animals to their God. For the gift to be acceptable, it had to be the best of what they had to offer. And the first of their harvest, as well as the firstborn of their flocks and herds, was to be offered to God. Why did God have regard for Abel’s offering, but not for Cain’s? Abel brought God his best, and put God first. With his offering, Abel richly thanked and honored the God who had given him life, health, wealth, and wellbeing. Cain just brought whatever ordinary produce he had on hand. Was that any way to thank the One who gave him his very life, and made his crops to grow, flourish, and bear fruit? In short, God accepted Abel’s offering because it was offered out of a heart full of sincerity and gratitude. God did not accept Cain’s offering because it smacked of being a half-hearted effort to curry God’s favor or to do the bare minimum so long as we need not get inconvenienced and to stay within our comfort zone.
What then are our own offerings to God – the best we are able to from the sincerity of our hearts? Or what we can spare? Sometimes, because we believe in an all-loving, all merciful, all faithful God, we think that is ‘okay’ if we fall short of giving our best to God. On the contrary, dear brothers and sisters, it is not okay …for God does demand the very, very, very best from us. He knows we will always fall short of it but that does not mean that He does not expect us to make the sincere effort on our part. And it begins from our hearts; start from there to offer your best – most loving, most sincere, most authentic, offering to God. For our God deserves only the best from us. He has said so when He commanded us to love Him with all our hearts, our souls, our minds and to love our brothers and sisters the same. The first and THE most important commandment since the beginning of time.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)
Prayer: Father, free us from the great evil in us of our ingratitude and insincerity to you. Deliver us from the spirit of this world that deludes us into the falsehood that you deserve only our mediocrity, our inauthenticity and our compromises in our worship and service of you and our brothers and sisters. Help us Father. We cannot rise above all these without your saving grace and love. Forgive us for all the times, we have been too human, forgetting that we are your children – children of the Almighty God.
Thanksgiving: Thank you for giving us your very best – your first born and only Son to save us, Mary to bring us the love of a perfect mother and the Holy Spirit, to sanctify, empower and advocate for us, for all the times we have given to you anything and everything… except our best.