REFLECTIONS

CHRIST’S RESPONSE TO ABEL’S CRY

This is an attempt to understand the power of the Blood of Christ above that of the blood of Abel. The letter to the Hebrews says, “The sprinkled blood of Christ speaks more insistently than the blood of Abel” (12:24).

Abel’s Cry for justice

The Lord said to Cain after he had killed Abel, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground” (Gn 4:10). What is the blood of Abel crying out for? It is crying out for justice on two counts: one, that the life of which Abel is robbed be returned to him; two, that Cain be avenged.

In the first place Abel is asking that his life be returned to him, since it has been taken away unjustly, by someone who has no right over his life. The cry of Abel is typical of the cries of millions of people who suffer injustice all over the world - in fact, of all the people from the time of Adam to the last man yet to be born. His cry is resounding from generation to generation. That is why Jesus said to the Jews, “This generation will have to answer for every prophet’s blood that has been shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was murdered between the altar and the sanctuary” (Luke 11:49-51). Every injustice committed on earth adds up to the debt of retribution that is due to be paid. This is as true of a simple lie told as it is of a murder committed. This is true even of an evil device hatched in the secret of one’s heart. For Jesus entertaining an evil intent is as serious as committing adultery (Cf. Mt 5:28). Every disordered subject is asking for retribution.

Abel’s cry for revenge

Secondly, the blood of Abel is crying out to see Cain disciplined (punished, to be more realistic). The punishment commensurate to the crime committed by Cain is nothing less than taking his life. Abel would imagine that his own soul would rest in peace (if you use a present-day justification for capital punishment) by depriving Cain of his life itself; an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is the primitive rule of retribution. Peoples still ask for the blood of a hard core criminal: “Hang him! Hang him!”

Whence comes Justice for Abel, acquittal for Cain?

In normal circumstance Abel would never get justice. This is because Cain who took his life is incapable of giving it back to him. Only God is capable of bringing anyone back to life. But would God put breath back into his nostrils? That has not been his way (except when in rare instances Jesus raised three dead persons). God generally lets the dead be buried.

On the other hand, taking the life of Cain in retribution also would not be a response to the cry of Abel; for of what use to Abel is the death of Cain if Abel himself is deprived of life? (For example, if someone maligns you, would your good name be restored by your maligning that person?) Therefore, vengeance is not a means to procuring justice.

Abel is in a wretched state. Where will he get justice? Who will hear his prayer? God does not listen to sinners (Jn 9:31). The first parents and their posterity had been “sold as a slave to sin” (Rom 7:14), when they sold themselves to Satan while they listened to Satan, rather than God. Read the account of the great fall in Gn. 3: 2-5:   The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”   “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” And the woman ate it and gave some to the man and he too ate of the forbidden fruit. As a consequence he experienced spiritual death (“… but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin,” says St. Paul (Rom 7:14). God had warned them that they would die if they ate of the forbidden fruit. They disobeyed. Subsequently they received the wage of sin, as St. Paul says, “The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Adam and his whole posterity bears thconsequences of the exiled life. That is why Paul, on behalf of the whole humanity, cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24).

On the part of Cain, he is devastated too. God said to Cain,  “ And now you are cursed fromthe ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.    Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me” (Gn 4:11-16). Cain must have been so devastated (one could gauge from his groan before God) that he would have been ready even to give his life if he could to bring his brother back to life. God assured him, “Not so! If anyone slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him.  Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord (“ Remember that you were at that time … having no hope and without God in the world” Ephesians 2:12).

Thus Abel could never get justice. And Cain had no acquittal. Humanity was damned.

*                                         *                                         *                                         *

The Blood of Christ: life blood for humanity

But God’s ways are mysterious. He would find ways of giving life back to Abel in altogether stupendous ways. First he pays the price to buy man back from Satan. It was when humanity was thus damned that Christ appeared. “But when Christ came as High Priest of the good things that are now already here, … he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb 9:11-12). The letter to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus as the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel (Heb.12: 24). This is so because, as St. Gregory the Great says, “ The blood of Jesus calls out more eloquently than Abel’s, for the blood of Abel asked for the death of Cain, the fratricide, while the blood of the Lord has asked for, and obtained, the life for his persecutors” (Book 13, 21-23).

The power of the blood of Christ is highlighted here. When man (Adam - the prototype of Christ) was spiritually dead and was “without God in the world” (Eph 2:12), “God made his Son to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). This was necessary because “the wages of sin is death”. Man earned death for himself. Keeping record of the sin of man, Satan would never miss an opportunity to accuse him. It was as if Satan was standing before the throne of God crying out day and night, “Death for man! Death for man!” the prophet Zechariah (3:1) sees it in a vision: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him”. (Joshua is the representative of the priesthood, and through that also of the whole people.) Therefore, a death is inevitable. Someone who was capable of representing the whole humanity had to die on behalf of man. None of the children of Adam could pay it satisfactorily, because they were all “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3). So, another man who was “righteous” (1Pt 3:18) would have to do it. That one would have to be on the one hand part of the human race, and on the other one who is free of sin. Therefore, God sent his only Son, as the letter to the Hebrews says, “For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners …” (Heb 7:26).

God put Him forward as an expiation by his blood (Rom 3:25)

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus offered himself to be arrested. He said, “If you are looking for me, then let these men go" (Jn 18:8). In the Praetorium Pilate hands Jesus over to the people in exchange of a criminal, Barabbas – the innocent one in exchange of a sinner. Soon after this Jesus accepts the wood of the cross. About this Isaiah had prophesied:

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,

stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

and by his wounds we are healed (Is 53: 4-5).

Satan was always jealous of God and of his Son Jesus, because he himself was thrown down from heaven. Therefore he hated all that he created. He fooled Adam into disobeying God got him on his side. Now Jesus had appeared to undo the wrong. Satan could not bear it. And that was the reason Satan did all he could to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross. He tried this from the day Jesus entered the desert to the time he was hanging on the cross. But Jesus submitted himself to death in obedience to the will of the Father. In this way Jesus became “the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeemed man from the transgressions under the first covenant” (Heb 9:15).

Thus, Abel’s cry has been answered. He has been given eternal life. He received life back with interest, because eternal life is surely higher than earthly life. Besides, God put a mark on the forehead of Cain, thus saving him from being killed by anyone who came across him. Thus Paul says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:13); and again, “For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life (Rom 5:10)!

Thus, the blood of Christ is proved to be more powerful than the blood of Abel.