In Genesis 4 we hear the story of the unimaginable; brother kills brother. It is an act of envy, jealousy and pure selfishness. And after Cain took the life of his brother, Abel, he shuttered himself up in denial and avoidance, as though he could hide his transgression. The story, however unpleasant, is a universal one, reflecting the human nature that gave rise to it in the first place.
In the story the hiding of Cain is unmasked through a question. Where is your brother? Cain’s response has become legendary: Am I my brother’s keeper? The answer is implied: Of course you are and your ignorance of this has created the tragedy of murder. You did not know him as your brother or that you were to be his keeper. The wild truth is made in one fell swoop by the Holy voice: I hear your brother’s blood crying from the ground! In other words, you may deny it, but his life’s blood will not allow that. If these are silent even the blood will cry out.
With the acquittal of George Zimmerman we have re-experienced the ancient and universal story. Brother has taken the life of the brother. In the courses of self-protection and denial his guilt was denied. No one may stand in judgment with certainty, of course, but the circumstances surrounding the event leave his innocence in severe doubt. What is left in even more doubt is any presumption of fairness or lack of discrimination.We have said, in words or decisions, that we are not our brother’s keeper. But his blood still cries out from the ground.
One of the unusual aspects of the story is the way that Cain’s despondency leads to some modicum of divine grace or protection. Cain fears that his life will be in jeopardy as those seeking revenge will attempt to slay him. It is a well-founded fear. Reprisal murders are common. If the system won’t balance the scales we will take that into our own hands.
So the Holy One marks the forehead of Cain, a simultaneous verdict and protection. He is “a marked man” insofar as his guilt is made public – worn on the most visible aspect of the body, the face. But the mark somehow carries a promise of divine protection. Those who seek vengeance will experience punishment equal to seven-fold. In other words, retaliation only generates more of the same. As opposed to “closure” it keeps the wound open and wounds more, even wounds the soul of the one doing the wounding.
Cain then wanders the earth, the truth told in his face and as protection is strangely carved into the same truth. He is destined to be a stranger, a wanderer, never at home with himself or others.
George Zimmerman, like so many of us in different ways, will carry just such a mark. It will accompany him into his waste places and, though technically free, will survive as an invisible ankle bracelet as he remains forever tethered to what has happened. Also like the rest of us we can hope that somewhere in the mystery of God he will find redemption, his mark absorbed into the marks that score the body of Christ, the signs of the suffering God, ever taking the wounds of the many into the one sacred body of the universe.