“when you peel the onion”
My mother didn’t ask me to help in the kitchen very often, in part because she didn’t like to cook and because she didn’t think there was much of a place for boys in her kitchen, which was fine for her sons. When she did ask me to help, all I remember was the job of peeling the potatoes and especially onions. It started out fine peeling away those flakey out leaves of the onion, but soon enough the layers were gone and then I knew an onion perfectly. Sooner or later, when you peel an onion, if you persevere, all the layers will come away and you’ll get right to the tear-jerking, pungent heart of the matter.
Jesus, whom the gospel says loved this young man does the peeling away of the layers of the who comes to him. Standing there with him we discover an unavoidable tension at the heart of the Christian life. That tension will be felt differently depending upon your age and circumstances but sooner or later, when all your layers have been peeled away, you will discover that the Christian life is about choosing your way or God’s way.
What must I do to inherit eternal life? this young man asks. Well, that’s biblespeak and most of don’t speak that way. I suggest you do some translating into your own language of the heart. What is the one question you would ask Jesus if you had the chance?
Do all the commandments of God, says Jesus, naming them one by one, even throwing in one against fraud. The man, on his knees now, looks up and tells the truth. “I have kept them all from the time I was a little boy until now.” We can only imagine what he didn’t say but thought. I have followed every rule, done everything possible to please God. But still there something is missing in my life. Why this dissatisfaction; what more can I do?
Jesus loves the man kneeling before him enough to look beneath the surface of his life. He looks beyond the shining trophies for high achievement that line the bookshelves of his heart. He passes over all the plaques and skips the long list of good deeds done, sacrifices made and accomplishments reached. These are the things that define this man, but they can’t satisfy his soul.
Jesus, with his questions and his stories, is a surgeon of the soul who works with the same precision as any other doctor. Looking with love upon this man, he offers the only thing that will bring him to his life purpose.
You lack only one thing, go sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come follow me.
The man is shocked. He walks away in state of grief. He has done everything he knows can to earn God’s approval and suddenly discovers that it can’t be earned at all.
The life that you and I so yearn for is given as gift. We can only live with our hands and hearts open, eyes and ears taking notice of the goodness that comes to us beyond what we deserve, expect or can produce of our own will. The rat race to the top stops here, the wise will get off as soon as possible. When you smell the onion, you begin to cry when the layers of protection are all gone. You have reached the heart of the matter, which is God inviting you to a life of trust in him.
Someone said that there are two mistakes we can make about this story. One is that it has to do with money; the other that it has nothing to do with money. Of course, it has to do with money. It’s a plain fact of the story. It’s also a plain fact that few things are more worrisome than money and possessions. The more we have, the more comfortable we want to be and the more complicated things become. The less we have, the more we want simple comfort, and the more complicated things become. And when used well, money is a great instrument for good in this world. That is why everyone is asked you to pledge generously to the ministry of this congregation, and our work with our mission partners. Money supports that work. Nothing has a more subtle hold on us than our money–too little or too much; which is why it’s so important for us to talk about this and listen to Jesus’ teachings.
Jesus never says his wealth is wrong; he never wags an accusatory finger at him or denounces him as a guilty rich man. He offers him the way to what he desires which is life with meaning and purpose. He focused on the one thing that kept him from his heart’s desire.
It’s the kind of honesty that you want in someone who truly cares about you. The one who will tell you what you don’t want to hear but is the one thing you most need to hear.
Let’s face it. It’s true that the more money, possessions and wealth we have, the more difficult it is to trust in the provisions of God our maker. This is one reason why there is such spiritual poverty among the wealthy people of the world, and in Africa, Asia and Latin America were there is massive poverty, the poor display a joyful trust in the living God. Still money itself is not the primary issue. The issue is to identify that which subverts our capacity to cast ourselves upon God with our whole being.
Jesus says, letting that one thing go is the key to the kingdom. What is it?
Doctor bills, and college accounts, household expenses automobiles, not to mention books, computers, and all the stuff we accumulate. None of this will go away. Shall we give them away? What set up a tent in Bethesda? A hut in Potomac. That’s not likely to happen and if you dismiss this text because you think that’s all there is, then you will miss the whole point. The real pungent, tear-jerking, sweet smelling question is, in whom do you trust with your life?
You can look upon the sad face of the rich young ruler walking away from Jesus’ loving invitation, and tremble. You can ponder the impossibility of a camel getting through the eye of needle and, holding your own meager wealth, tremble. All of this is possible and may lead to despair, much as it did the rich man. He walked away with his life intact, carrying his wealth with him. Did he remember the loving gaze of Jesus and later reconsider? I wonder but am left with only his sad face.
Instead of walking away with our lives sadly intact, I suggest we do something hopeful. How about you and I open our heart to God who makes all things possible. Listen slowly and meditatively to the loving invitation of Jesus to a life of joyful discipleship. Count your blessings, consider your resources. If generous giving bring abundant joy, what joy waits for you and for all of us together?
What if we let go and give?
Can anyone be saved? Well, this is the good news! It’s impossible for you and me. But not for God; here’s the sweet pungent heart of the onion with everything peeled away, tears falling down: With God, all things are possible! Alleluia!