Cain killed Abel. A pretty well known fact, it’s true. And most of the time we focus on the “why” of it. The text doesn’t really give a good answer for that. Cain had a problem, I suppose, with controlling his anger. But while Genesis doesn’t give a “why”, it does explain a “therefore.” What happened to Cain because of his past sin? He was eternally marked. He displayed for all, for the rest of his life, a mark that showed his sin. Why is that? Because he refused to repent of his sin. Just like his parents before him, he offered excuses, refusing to admit his sin. So he was marked.
The homeless are also marked. They are marked by their peculiar style of poverty. By the layers of clothes, by the long beards and hair, by the daypacks and shopping carts. They are marked. And just like Cain, they are rejected by other due to these marks. They stand out as “the Other” and so they are repulsive to the rest of society. When the police see them, they make sure to take down their names to see if they have any records. When shopowners see them, they make sure they get what they want and leave quickly. When they come into churches, certain members cringe inwardly, avoid contact with them and hope that being ignored will keep them from contacting any of them.
Why do the homeless have such a mark? This mark is the mark of the society they have joined, the fellowship that they are partnered with. But such a fellowship is not often sought or hoped for. How did they join? Different reasons…
Sam became homeless because his mother committed suicide while he was still living with her. The trauma caused him to lose his job and his housing. He’s been homeless for more than ten years now, nursing his wounds, wandering from meal to meal, because he has no energy or reason to do anything else.
Frank was a methanphetamine abuser for many years, from his childhood. He pulled himself together long enough to get married to someone who nominally belonged to a restrictive cult. They had two children. As he became stronger in the Lord, he began to teach his kids about the Lord and what the Bible says. Their mother got deeper into the cult again and eventually the cult forced her to divorce her husband and not allow the kids to ever see him again. This event drove him back deeper into drugs. Now he’s been clean for a year and a half, but because of the damage the drugs caused him for so many years, he is unable to stay at any one job, wandering from ministry to ministry, seeking to serve and to hear the word of the Lord.
Joe had various jobs throughout his life—construction worker, volunteer fireman, shopkeeper. He loves to quote his father’s pithy quips. But the main thing he learned from his family is drug abuse. Both of his brothers died due to some combination of drug abuse and cancer. He is proud that he uses no illegal drugs, but he freely admits that he is an alcoholic. He also has cancer. He can’t handle regular treatment, and so he doesn’t know how long he’ll live. So he doesn’t bother trying.
The stories go on and on. Trauma. Hopelessness. Disconnection. Lack of trust. Just like Cain. And they are marked like Cain, by the society we are a part of.
How did Jesus treat those who were marked? Because many in his society had the mark as well. In Jesus day, prostitutes and tax collectors, Gentiles and “sinners”, beggermen and cripples, they all had the mark. The mark of separateness. The mark of not belonging to “righteous” society. How did Jesus treat them?
Jesus ate with them, a cultural symbol of partnership. Jesus called them to repentance. Jesus healed their wounds and cared for them. Jesus gently offered them hope. He offered them God. He offered them himself. He was the servant to those with the mark. And that is what Anawim does. They minister to one of the groups in our society that have the mark of Cain. They feed them. They clean and dress their wounds—both physical and emotional. They offer hope in the midst of misery and tell the marked, “Jesus is for you. Jesus came for you, more than for the people in the churches. Jesus has strength for you. And Jesus will bring you close to God. And God will heal you of who you are and where you have come from.”
The question is not: "How do we get rid of the mark?" The question is whether we will forgive them for that which is not a sin.
Paintings by Michael Sherriffs Hall. Find more here.