Sunday, August 30, 2009

Are We Making Onion Soup? No, Just Trying to Get to Heaven

What do the following items all have in common: bananas, watermelons, avocados, coconuts, pineapples and onions? They are all filled with delicious goodness on the inside but have a skin you can’t eat. I could name more fruits, vegetables and other foods that share this trait – a tough exterior with a delicate interior. And if you read some of the many ‘good health’ guides you will see all these items listed as being “good for you” and a part of every healthy life.

So what is ultimately good for us? This may have been the question that led the rich man to approach Jesus Christ in this morning’s Gospel. All of us seek what we think is good for us whether it is a good education or a good healthy diet or a good doctor when our diet isn’t so healthy. “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19.16) These are the words of a rich man seeking goodness in his life. Believe it or not, the answer to this man’s question begins with understanding that goodness sometimes is to be found under the tough skin of an onion.

In order to get the goodness of an onion, we have to peel away the dry layers revealing the pure core of the onion. Jesus said to the rich man, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” (Matthew 19.17) Goodness is sometimes hidden unless we make the effort to look deep into the core. The man only saw Jesus as a teacher, just as we often only see the dry onion, but Jesus is God and for those who are able to see Him, we see that He is Good…and therefore “good for us.”

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…So God made man; in the image of God He made him; male and female He made them…Then God saw everything He had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Genesis 1.26-27,31) In the opening passages of the Old Testament God reveals to us that we were made in His image and that He declared us and all creation to be very good. In this morning’s Gospel Jesus reminds us that only God is good, so how can we also be good? The answer is in the onion.

Shortly after God created humanity we began to disobey Him and layer by layer we began to cover the goodness that God had created with bitter skins. By now some of us even find it hard to see the goodness in ourselves let alone the goodness in our enemies. But just like an onion it is there, all we have to do search for it. That is exactly what the rich man was doing when he walked up to Christ in this morning’s Gospel.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as Orthodox Christians our goal is to spend all eternity in Communion with God. Being in Heaven is being in Communion with the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One God. Listen again to the dialogue between the rich man and Jesus:

“But if you want to enter into eternal life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and your mother, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to Him, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’(Matthew 19.17-20)

God is telling us exactly what type of life He expects us to live if we want to spend eternity in Communion with Him. Keeping The Commandments is like layers of sin being peeled away slowing revealing the goodness that is inside each of us. And if you have ever peeled an onion, there are always more layers…and that is the message for us this morning. If we want to be perfect and follow Jesus Christ to Heaven we must peel away all the bitter sins of our lives one layer at a time and expose the goodness that is in our core; but God knows, better than us, that it is easier said than done.
“”Assuredly I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19.23-24,26) In ancient times it was common for sailors to call the large ropes on their boats ‘camels’ and since Jesus was speaking to His disciples, many of whom were fishermen, most people in the Church read this passage to mean the it is easier to get a rope through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Does anyone know how to get a rope through the eye of a needle? The answer rests in the onion.

Rope, just like an onion, is made of many layers. In order to make rope, first many small threads are twisted together to make string and many strings are then twisted together to make rope. So…..if we unravel the rope leaving only the original thread we can easily pass the thread through the needle. What our Lord is trying to teach us this morning is that the only we can get into heaven is to remove all the layers of sin that we have wound around our lives and return to the core goodness that He created in the first place.

Onions and rope come in all shapes and sizes, and so do we. Jesus knows that is it not easy living every day in our fallen world surrounded by crime, violence, greed, sexual immorality…you name it our society suffers from it. God also knows that it is not easy peeling away the layers of sin our lives. Like an onion it probably will even cause some tears, but God also knows what is inside our core. As an onion gets older and older it surrounds its core with more and more layers. The longer we wait to begin to remove the layers of sin that we have twisted around the rope of our lives the harder it will be to imagine that we can ever get through that needle.

The good thing is, “With God all things are possible.”

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