She had been so wicked that in all her life she had done only one good deed — given an onion to a beggar. So she went to hell. As she lay in torment she saw the onion, lowered down from heaven by an angel. She caught hold of it. He began to pull her up. The other damned saw what was happening and caught hold of it too. She was indignant and cried, “Let go — it’s my onion,” and as soon as she said, “My onion,” the stalk broke and she fell back into the flames.” — E. M. Forster in The Hill of Devi
When does the cost of an onion become too high?
Selfishness, selfcenteredness and egocentric behavior all seem more the norm rather than the exception in today’s society. But that come with a heavy price as illustrated in the quote above.
Life is about love, about relationships, and about sharing. The more we give the more we live. Every opportunity to share is another opportunity to become more alive and to experience even deeper joy.
Me, my, and mine are not large words. Yet, all of them are far heavier than we imagine. We would do well to remember, that the stalk of an onion cannot bear the weight of even one of them.
We are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will only be the initial act. One day…the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
I call this transformation crossing the bridge from compassion to justice. It’s not enough to respond to the sight of the poor and hungry with a reactionary gift. It’s not enough to even give regularly to help feed and care for those we know are in need.
Both are good. And both make a real difference. But neither is what is truly needed.
An infection cannot be cured with bandaids.
We can end hunger in our lifetime. We can change the world forever. But to do so requires more than compassion.
Ending hunger in our lifetime requires us to take the bone away from the dog. It requires us to confront the systems that oppress the poor and hungry and say ” Enough. No more.”
We can transform the Jericho Road. It just requires justice.