Why Did Cain Kill His Brother?

“It’s not fair!  I should have won that award not her!”  “I don’t understand why people seem to like him more than me!”  “How did that clown get promoted over me?”

There is a great line in one of my favorite all time movies, The Island.  A very scholarly, intelligent monk is upset because all the people flock to have tea and talk with the lowly guy who shovels coal every day to keep the furnaces going.  The monk goes down to straighten him out one day. The coal shoveler asks the monk a question: “Why did Cain kill his brother?”  It turns out that this lowly guy is a “Fool for Christ” with incredible insights into people’s lives.  The monk goes away quite angry.

So why did Cain kill his brother?  God looked with favor on the offering of Abel, but not so with Cain.  Cain was filled with envy toward his brother.  St. John Chrysostom (Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily 37) calls envy the “mother of murder and the devil of all mankind.”  Envy leads people to begin to think bad thoughts toward someone else; even wishing evil on that person.  It can lead to spreading slander and even worse.  It can seem to be such an unimportant sin, but it is perhaps more grievous than any other sin.  In fact, a person can pray, fast, and do acts of mercy and yet be further away from God because of having envy toward someone else.  Let’s pick up the story of Cain and Abel right after envy has entered Cain’s heart:

So, Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)

God saw the envy in Cain’s heart and gave him plenty of warning.  The picture of “sin crouching at the door” brings to mind a picture of a lion ready to make a kill (see 1 Peter 5:8-9).  That is exactly what sin does in our lives; it kills us.

Cain failed to overcome this sin and he murdered his brother.  Are we being Cain in our minds and hearts when we have this sin of envy controlling us?  We truly are like Cain when we fail to overcome this sin and we begin to “murder” our brother or sister with our thoughts, words, and actions.  This “murder” is explained by Jesus when he says we are guilty of murder even when we have anger, contempt or slander in our hearts towards someone else (Matthew 5:21-26).

We offend God when we burn with envy over someone else’s success. Unlike Cain, we must learn to “master it” when it comes to envy. If we feel envy rising up inside us, we should begin “to do what is right” …to speak well of that person to other people, and do good to that person and pray for them.  We can overcome envy or perhaps it is better to say:  We must “master” envy!    

With you on the Journey…Fr. Stephen 

P.S. Here’s the Link to watch The Island if you haven’t seen it or (like me) want to watch it every Great Lent:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wz-vegualMg

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