Pursuit of Virtue — the Garden of your Mind

Let me tell you another story…A story of young men who fought; of a man who killed his brother. After leaving home, the older and younger brothers each brought a tax to Government, er, I mean an offering to the Sanctuary. The older brother brought vegetables that he grew from his farm. The younger brother brought a lamb, the best of his yearlings from the flocks on his ranch. The younger brother’s offering was favored. The older brother’s offering wasn’t. Later, in the fields, the older brother killed the younger brother.

Yes, we’re talking about Cain and Able here. A few weeks ago when I read this again, for perhaps the hundredth time, I deliberately took a step back from pre-conceived notions. I have to remind myself to do that quite regularly. I just looked at the story to see what it could tell me. Here’s what I saw.

Cain tilled the soil, a farmer. Able kept sheep, a shepherd, a rancher. I want to focus more on the brothers here but also on the offerings.

Cain obviously labored over the soil to bring his crops to harvest. Able had also worked with his flock, just as Cain had with his vegetables. Able hadn’t tilled anything, but he did lead his sheep from water source to water source and from one grass pasture to the next, or they would eat ’till the earth was bare. He probably labored just as hard with his flocks as Cain did with his farming.  So, it couldn’t have been that work went into the offering.

God looked upon Able’s offering with favor, but not Cain’s. Maybe it was because Able chose the best of his young lambs and Cain just brought a random portion of the crops. We don’t know if Cain brought the best of produce or if he brought the part with blight and insect infestation. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, just that it was a random cross-section of the crop, but let’s consider further.

Cain was quite upset when his offering wasn’t accepted. So, he probably didn’t bring the blighted parts. I mean when you give someone crap and they reject it, that’s kind of to be expected, right? You don’t necessarily get upset over it. Unless… you got participation trophies in sports and the teachers in school graded everything pass-fail and never differentiated between an A and D-minus. But this was long before modern youth sports and progressive, public education; so we can safely assume that Cain knew the difference between the bad crops and the okay ones. He must have considered what he brought to be acceptable, otherwise why get angry?

After their offerings, only one of the brothers’ conversation with God is recorded: Cain’s. We see that God came and talked to Cain with great wrath and called him a vile sinner for bringing the product of his own labor, for thinking that by his own hard work he could ever earn God’s favor. Er, no. Not exactly. In fact, the record doesn’t show that God was mad with Cain at this point at all. His tone sounds rather grandfatherly and instructive. “If you do well, you’ll be accepted. If you do not do well…villainy crouches at the door. It desires to master you, but you can master it”

God told Cain that vice crouched at the door. It hadn’t entered yet. So for Cain to bring vegetables wasn’t wrongdoing. Just because God didn’t accept the vegetable offering or hold it in high regard — as He did Able’s lamb — doesn’t mean that Cain did wrong by offering vegetables. It doesn’t mean that God judged him a sinner at this point. Also, seeing that villainy was at the door, Cain didn’t have to open and let it in (my teenaged son actually pointed that out) and neither do we.

The next thing we see is Cain beating his brother to death with a club sold by Abraxis Artificers, the Old Firm, solving Problems since the Beginning. Okay, maybe they weren’t the ones to sell Cain the club. The point is that Cain was in a rage to beat his brother to death. The record shows that Cain rose up against Able or set upon him. This was no mere shoving match and oops he fell on the dagger the wrong way. Cain went after Able. And in order to kill his brother he must have been in quite a rage to do this without a gun or a sword.

What deadly vice could have driven Cain to murder?

Gluttony? No.

Greed? No.

Pride? Maybe. Pride may have contributed, but these three deadly sins may lead one to inadvertently offend or act uncharitably toward another. These three focus inward, on the self and not upon another object.

Oh, I know, it was sloth… or not; neither lust.

Wrath clearly played a role, being the vice that led Cain to take the club and actually kill. Wrath nearly always has an external object, such as a brother favored by God, or the One Percent. Wrath is often uncontrollable by the one who feels it but it requires a prompting, a catalyst. In this case I submit that envy led Cain to wrath, and from there it carried him to murder. Envy and covetousness exist in the mind when one wants that which belongs to another, not to get that which is his own, but to take the specific property of another. Does any of this sound familiar? Aren’t we hearing a lot of that from our politicians today? Prompting their followers to jealousy of those who work hard and achieve, while simultaneous denigrating achievement? But I get ahead of myself. This is for another post, on another day on another topic.

Let’s go back to what God told Cain before he went after Able. “Villainy’s desire is for you but you can master it.” If Cain had been in control of his own mind, he could have mastered envy. If Cain had regarded his mind as he did his farm, he could have weeded out the undesirable thoughts, like envy and covetousness. He could have nurtured patience, reminding himself that the next growing season and the next opportunity for an offering would come soon enough. He could have nurtured good thoughts, virtues, like diligence and understanding. He could have talked with his brother and his parents to figure out what it was about Able’s offering that made it acceptable and done like wise. If the point was that a lamb has to die for sin, Cain could have trade his crops with his brother.

But he didn’t. Cain didn’t do any of that.

And we know what came next. Murder. Judgment. Exile. Does envy always lead this far? No, of course not. But it can lead to a kind of internal exile where the one who envies can’t relate properly to the others and thus feels alienated.

So, what can be the solution?

Abraham Lincoln once remarked upon just this matter. He said, “Let not him who is poor look with envy upon the house of the rich and so gather his fellows to pull it down and many be left homeless. Instead, let each labor to build his own house and thus shall many have homes.” Mind your own business. Don’t worry about the other guy has. Work to make a better life for your family and friends.

How can one keep from worrying over what the other has? Treat your mind like a garden. Plant and nurture the qualities you want to see in yourself. Treat thoughts that run counter like weeds and pull them out. Be the shepherd of your thoughts and seek out the green pastures and tranquil waters to lead your mind where you want to go.

How do we make a better life for ourselves and our families? Take responsibility for our own lives. Don’t wait for someone else to give you what you want. That’s what we did as young children writing letters to Santa or telling our parents what we wanted for our birthdays. Now that we are adults, we should apply our efforts toward creating the life we want. Be the change you want to see. Create the life that you want for yourself.  

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The opinions expressed in my writings are my own, unless otherwise cited or attributed, and not necessarily those of my employers.

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