The Mediocre Offering

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We’re only a few days into Lent and I’m already struck by all the discussion over what people are doing to honor the season.  There’s endless Facebook posts about what’s right or wrong.  It has got me thinking about the story of Cain and Abel from Genesis 4:1-7:

Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the LORD.”  Next she bore his brother Abel.  Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground.  In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions.  And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.  So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.  The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Gen 4:1-7 NRS)



(Image courtesy of etc.usf.edu)

I consider whatever spiritual practice we engage in during Lent to be an offering to God.  We, of course, participate in it and receive from it, but our motivation should be God.  Few people realize that the first offering in the Bible comes from Cain.  Without being asked or told, Cain brings an offering to God from his harvest.  As a tiller of the ground, or farmer, Cain grows produce.  Thus his offering is a portion of what he earns from his labor.  Cain’s younger brother, Abel, is a shepherd and he also brings an offering to God.  Scripture notes that Abel’s offering was a firstling from his flock, meaning that the very first lamb born, making it the first yield for his labor.  Even more, Abel offered up the fat portions of the lamb, considered to be the best, and gave them to God.

Without any explanation, we are told that God had regard for Abel and his offering, but none for Cain and his.  For some reason, God looks upon Abel and his firstling with high esteem, thus they find favor with God.  While we could engage in endless debate about whether or not God prefers shepherds to farmers, or whether Abel made a better fire, etc., I believe God thought Cain’s offering was mediocre, of ordinary quality.  It was neither good nor bad, but not really anything to write home about.  Why?  Because Cain just took something and gave it over to God, while Abel was intentional and gave God the first and finest without keeping it for himself.  Abel made a sacrificial offering by turning over the first fruits of his labor.

By my vocation I spend almost all day doing things for God.  This includes a lot of prayer, but sometimes it is not until late at night, right before I go to sleep that I spend some time with God for me.  I can’t help but read this scripture from Genesis and think that I’m pulling a Cain.  By simply giving God some of whatever time I have, I’m making a mediocre offering.  Yes, God is pleased to have conversation with me via prayer, but God doesn’t want to be an after thought, none of us do.  How much more would God appreciate being the first thing I think of when I wake up?  If I am intentional about focusing on God before I do anything else, I’ve made my time with my Lord the firstling of my day.  When we begin our day by cultivating a deeper relationship with God, we will have a Christ-like mind for whatever trials and tribulations come that day.  The Lord tells Cain that sin is lurking at the door, and we know this.  Every day there are temptations and opportunities for us to engage in wrath, pride, envy, you name it.  However, I am better prepared and more likely to defend against sinfulness, if I have been refreshing myself with God before setting out into the world where sin lurks at every door.  Perhaps I will find, not just my offering, but my days go from mediocre to extraordinary.

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