12 February 2007

Making Cain's sacrifice

6th Week OT (M): Gen4.1-15 and Mark 8.11-13
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX


Tim and I enjoyed the philosophical banter that undergrads seem to enjoy. We solved many of the world’s most difficult philosophical problems sitting in that cafeteria over eggs and coffee. But here’s where we parted company: Tim put his logic and the need for empirical evidence above his need to fall in love with Christ. He would not step off, trusting, into the logicless glory of faith and take on the eyes of Christ to see his world, returning, inevitably to right reason and good sense but reason and sense now directed to one end with one purpose in Christ: union with God. I wouldn’t do this either, mind you, but I knew I should, and I wanted to, but while Tim waited for the machines of logic to grind out his arithmetical proof of divine existence, I floundered somewhere between an urgent desire for God and a fear of throwing myself into a Love with no obvious boundaries. Tim’s faith in calculative logic and my weak courtship of both agnosticism with good liturgy and outright fundamentalism earned us each a punishment. I became a High Church Episcopalian. And Tim became a lawyer.

Will I go so far as to say that Tim and I were latter-day brothers, following Cain and Abel? No. But I will say this: the sacrifices we brought to the altar in worship, though radically different from one another, were both comparable to Cain’s offering. Neither of us would put our lives on the altar. Neither would budge on the central question that requires a leaping YES into Love. We held back our first fruits, our choicest pieces, and withheld from God the very sacrifice that would have brought us the wisdom we seemed to desire. We would not make our lives holy by giving them up in service to Christ. We hesitated because we needed more from him—better evidence, tighter logic, a stronger feeling of purpose, a message or memo, some sort of guarantee delivered personally by God that our ultimate sacrifice would be rewarded to our satisfaction. We held back waiting for a sign. In the meantime, we settled for comfortable substitutes, non-threatening alternatives; namely, various academic “—ism’s,” paper ideologies that mimic the faith but fail to strike at the heart the way the Word will. Truth will sear the toughest muscle.

Now, I know I heard Jesus sigh more than once during those years. With the Pharisees he sighs at their stubborn hearts “from the depths of his spirit.” He is truly exasperated with their unwillingness to accept the most obvious indications of his identity. They wait for one sign after another, another prophecy to be fulfilled, another “pointing to,” another witness from the ages. And Jesus asks, “Why do you seek a sign?” The answer is obvious! But his real question is: why won’t you believe? Why won’t you trust? No amount of evidence will guarantee the truth if there is no trust. Think: do you trust your husband or wife, brother or sister, best friend, do you trust these people in your life b/c you gathered sufficient evidence and logically concluded that they are trustworthy? Did you watch for signs to indicate their worthiness? Do you hold back fully trusting them in order to test their integrity? When is does the test end? When will you decide that the evidence is compelling? If you don’t trust, you have no measure to rein in suspicion, no border to mark off paranoia. If you will not trust the Lord to keep His promises, to bless your life, to forgive your sins, then you will flounder btw needing Him and pushing Him away.

Cain brought his second best to the altar of God. He gave his brother’s life to the thirsty soil—a sacrifice to Rage. Since he did not trust God, he could not give himself to God. And he too received a just punishment. If we will be in that boat with Jesus, our first sacrifice will be our trust—no need for signs, no tempting God with requests for miracles. We know b/c we have first believed!

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