The Roving Reactor has some great posts on his blog about Cain (of Cain & Abel fame) and God’s rejection of his offering in the Genesis story – he also mentions how it would have been enjoyable talking to Saramago about this, and I totally agree, although unlike RR I would not have been able to hang with the conversation, since I don’t speak Portuguese: ). So what is the story with Cain and his sacrifice? The passage comes early in Genesis (read 4:1-16 for the story but it is best to read Genesis 2-5 to get the whole context).
Why does God reject Cain’s offer in the story? Cain as a tiller of the ground worked the earth but it was not his – he was a steward of it but it belonged to God. This parallels Adam, who was a steward of the garden and in fact his name drives this point even further home – Adam means man and the female form adamah means ground. Cain and Abel both bring offerings to God. In Genesis 1:29-30 God commands that the fruits of the earth are for all. Cain did not, apparently, divide his offering up correctly (Gen. 4:7) and offer some to his brother, whose flocks are dependent on crops raised by Cain. In any case, God chose one offering over another for either this reason or his own; it is his prerogative. Cain did not have to react by killing his brother – it was merely that his offering was rejected. As did Adam, Cain thought he had power over every other creature and acts as judge, jury and executioner on his brother, where only God is entitled to this power. Abel was innocent in all of this and takes the fall. Cain also acts rashly, which is not wise – he is unfit to be a master, even though he act like one. Abel, whose name means breath, is an ephemeral character. He never says a line, and then he is gone. Cain, the killer, remains the focus of the story and ends up cursed by the ground, which is there to give life but has now received blood and death. Cain wanders away from the garden of life meant for man from which man is banished, yet God, ever merciful, will protect him.
Abel, he of the momentary mention and passing, is also a crucial part of the story for us as Orthodox Christians. He makes a reappearance in, of all places, the icon of the Resurrection. Young and beardless, he stands to the side of Christ. He was the first victim of the consequence of sin and has now been redeemed.