The Karamazov Brothers include a folktale about an elderly woman who did not live prudently and after her death was found in a lake of fire. Her guardian Angel was trying to do whatever possible to help her. But the only good deed this woman remembered committing when she was alive was that she had once given an onion from her garden to a beggar woman. So the angel took the onion, told the woman to grab it, and began pulling it out of the lake. However, she was not alone in the lake.
When the others saw what was happening, they gathered and hung on her, hoping that they would also come out with her. But then the woman, filled with terror and indignation, began to kick them. “Leave me alone,” she shouted. “He is pulling me out, not you. The onion is mine, not yours.” The moment she said this, the onion broke in two and the woman fell back into the lake. And she has been burning in there to this day.
If the old woman had said, “This is our onion,” wouldn’t that be strong enough to pull them all out of the fire? But as soon as she said “it’s mine, not yours”, she became something less than human. By refusing to share, she denied her personality. The true human being, faithful to the image of the Triune God, is the one who always says not “I”, but “we”, not “mine” but “ours.”
The prayer that the Son of God taught us begins with “Our Father, Who art in heaven,” and not with “My Father.” What made the first apostolic Christian community in Jerusalem stand out was the exact act of sharing. As Christians, so many centuries later, we need desperately to regain this sense of society, to learn again how to share the onion.