"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." - Genesis 4:2-5
You've heard of the first family? Not the one at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The very first family: Adam, Eve and their boys, Cain, a farmer, and Abel, a shepherd.
One day, the two brothers bring a sacrifice to the Lord. Cain serves up some lovely vegetarian fare, while Abel provides his choicest meat. God is pleased by Abel's gift but looks unfavorably on Cain's, prompting Cain to kill Abel in a jealous rage.
God sides-steps capital punishment and sends the first murderer into exile, but Cain is convinced others will want to kill him once word gets out about his crime—a peculiar anxiety since there are only three people on the earth at this point. Nevertheless God "marks" Cain so that anyone who encounters him will spare his life. It was the world's first tattoo.
One would therefore expect, at least in the predominantly Christian Western world, that naming your child after Cain would be about as well-received as naming him Judas Iscariot or Osama. Yet in my life I've run across several people with the name Cain, Kain or Kane, but not a single person named Abel.
Perhaps it's because, through it all, God shows astounding mercy and compassion for Cain after his horrible crime. Just as God provided protective clothing for Adam and Eve after their big mistake, so God protects Cain after his. Sign me up for that!
In fact, I am signed up for that. And so are you. Not through the sign of Cain, with whom we have so much in common, but through the sacrifice of another good shepherd, brother Jesus.
Lord, the bad news is we are like Cain. The good news is you are not. Thank you that we are marked by the cross and sealed with the protective covering of your Spirit despite the harm we do to ourselves, others and your creation.
Matthew Laney is the Senior Minister of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, UCC, in Hartford, Connecticut.