In today’s first reading, the brothers Cain and Abel have just brought an offering to the Lord. Abel brought his best lamb to offer to God in sacrifice. Cain brought some of the first fruits of the harvest, but pointedly not the best. “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not.” (Gen 4:5-6a)
Several commentaries offer that what follows in Genesis 4:6-7 is perhaps the most challenging verse facing translators in the Book of Genesis, or perhaps all of the Hebrew Scriptures. “So, the LORD said to Cain: “Why are you so resentful and crestfallen. If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master.”
Scholars offer that “resentful and crestfallen” can mean angry or depressed – or both at the same time. In any case, Cain has been caught out in his worship. What was he thinking? That he could withhold from God what was God’s already? Did Cain think God would not notice?
Does Cain notice that God is not angry? God simply notes “If you do well…” your offerings will be looked upon favorably. Or you can continue on this path. It is almost unsaid that this is an instant replay of what befell his parents: “Satan, the great tempter, is ever lurking and whispering. Right now, your pride has been wounded. But your choice led you to this moment. And your choice can lead you either to master pride and Satan or be mastered by pride and temptation. It’s your choice.”
Sound familiar? Pride was the first temptation in Scripture. It is the next temptation. It is the perpetual temptation. But here’s the thing about temptation. It is surrounded by grace.
Has a situation made you impatient? Are you annoyed and resentful as you silently stew about it all? You have a choice. You can be prideful that your time is not valued as much as you think it should be? You can express your annoyance with some piercing comment. You can give in to the “demon luring at the door” or you can accept the grace, take a deep breath, and master the temptation. It’s your choice.
It is a life made up of thousands of little choices. “If you do well, you can hold up your head.”