A terrible flood washed through a town and trapped a man on the roof of his house. Confident that the Lord would save him, he was not afraid and sat patiently waiting. When the water had risen about halfway up to where the man was stranded, a boat came by and a rescuer reached out his hand, but the man refused it, shouting above the wind, “I don’t need your help! The Lord will save me!” A while later, when the water had risen to only a few feet from where the man sat, another boat came by, and, again, the man refused help, crying, “I am waiting for the Lord, who is coming to save me!” Eventually, the water rose to where the man was and consumed him. When he came before the Lord at his moment for judgment, he begged, “Why God, when I put all of my faith and trust in you, did you let me die?!” And the Lord replied, exasperated, “But I sent TWO boats!”
Today’s readings speak of opening our eyes, our hearts, to what is right in front of us. They call us to see the miracle of God in every moment, to accept it in total faith and confidence, and to give back our whole hearts and beings in gratitude for such wonders. Unfortunately, faith is not so easy, and in the reading and the Gospel, we find two examples of how we, as humans, have failed in this gift of ourselves.
What did poor Cain do to have the Lord look unfavorably on his offering? We can only speculate, as the Bible gives no definitive answer. Perhaps, he did not give the best he had, but something even only slightly less than perfect. Perhaps, he kept a little for himself, not wanting to waste such a profit by burning it instead of selling it. Whatever he did, his offering was incomplete, from a heart not fully ready to accept who God was and what God meant to the world. He was not ready to see. He was not ready to give all of himself in surrender. Cain’s faith in God was hesitant and doubtful, rooted in the concerns of this world rather than those of the next, and so it was not necessarily the sacrifice he gave that was inadequate, but the heart from which he gave it that was unwilling and unfavorable before God.
In a sense, Cain was no different than the Pharisees of today’s gospel. They too were not ready. They too were reluctant. They too were unwilling to offer the best, to offer themselves. How human was it for them to ask for a sign. Proof. Evidence. With doubting hearts, they could not see past what was right in front of them, that Christ himself, his being in our world, was the true sign. They were blinded because they did not want to believe in a savior who was not the righteous warrior king from the Old Testament, the messiah that they expected. Instead, he was a simple man, a carpenter, a servant among servants, who ate and drank with sinners and who reached out to lepers and cripples. The Pharisees wanted something more from Christ than these humble origins; they wanted something more than just a man, and when they could not see Christ for what he truly was, they rejected him. In return, Christ left them, and they saw no sign.
Both Cain and the Pharisees saw only the world before them, only dirt and flesh, not the gift of God that made such material worthy of the perfect offering, the perfect sacrifice.
We too struggle to see beyond the world when searching for the Lord. In world today swept up by technology and science, where life is explained away by atoms, chemical reactions, and theories of chance, we sometimes feel that any sign from God, any miracle that we receive, must be entirely extraordinary and beyond. We assume that any true experience of the Divine must surpass, transcend, nature. What we forget is that nature, that the world around us, was God’s first miracle, and thus that those molecules and reactions and processes of science, are in themselves miraculous. That the world exists, that the sun has risen, that you and I are still breathing in and out, is an act of God. We forget that life itself is a sign. A miracle. And in turn, we waste it. Cain stole life away in jealousy. The Pharisees denied life and led it to a cross. We sit and wait for great phenomenon without seeing what is directly before us, without appreciating every moment, without giving our whole hearts in hope and gratitude for what God has already done for us.
What do we look for when we are searching for God? Do we see the quiet ray of light coming through the window? Do we see the sleeping child? Do we see the blossom that is just opening its pedals? Do we see the look in the eyes of one who loves us? It all seems so simple, even a bit foolish, but each and every moment like these is a sign from a God who only wants to bless us. Can we bless God in return? Can we be so grateful as to offer the best we have? To give our whole selves, our whole hearts, in return to him? Can we be open to seeing, to trusting, to believing, no matter what comes before us, however unexpected? Can we love our God and the creation our God has prepared for us, the first of which is ourselves? Let us love life. Let us immerse ourselves in it. Let us give all that we are. Then, we shall be surrounded everyday by signs, by miracles, by faith, and we shall see what Cain and the Pharisees could not. We shall see our savior face to face, ready to offer the sacrifice of praise that Christ so freely makes available to us. Then maybe, when the boat comes by and our God reaches out a hand to save, we won’t be so hesitant to grab onto it and never let go.