John 12:1-8 Wealth and poverty are yoked in fields off the two-lane highway in Ecuador. Near the school and clinic we visit annually, there are rich fields where scattered seed can yield a thousand fold. In those same fields dirt poor campesinos and concrete shanties are well rooted. There was a spot just down the road that sold plants we could by for the school. It was just a gap in the road where dogs with ribs you can see from distance roamed, waiting for a crumb to drop from barefoot children standing alone in the dirt yard. Behind the littered dirt yard though, on the other side of a hidden gate there was an arbored path. The path was flanked by a beautiful orchard heavy laden with mangoes and cocoa fruit. It is disconcerting to witness the wealth of a vast orchard before harvest and the poverty of children with scabies standing by starving dogs sharing the same field. The fields are troubled, and when we take the time to sit in them, they can’t help but trouble our souls. They stir the sleepy waters of days afloat on half-asleep routines. The fields of Ecuador call groups from here every year to rethink our ideas of justice, complacency, and ignorance. Each year we go and sit in those fields all day, soaking in the sun and concoctions we rub on our bodies to deter the mosquitoes and glaring sun. We sit there and take in the sweetness of fresh juices and community. We sit there and laugh and cry as we remember how unjust and lovely this world is. We sit there and marvel how it is possible that it is in such fields we learn new truth.
Drew Goddard said the fields of San Eduardo remind him that The Kingdom of God is not an efficient process, unless you measure how quickly it makes you care. Ali Sevilla said in that space she can hear the call not to wipe her tears that flow like streams because they consecrate the work. Melissa Wert said this place, where we built a simple school, opened a place within her where she felt a new and deep gratitude that meant a loving acceptance of a gift freely given. Cynthia Lee said that in these fields, it is not what we look at, it is what we see and that she sees connectedness. Mike Beckham said in that place some come looking for freedom from the incessant heat, bloated, parasite-filled bellies, preventable illness, back and shoulder pain from laboring in the fields, and from the stench of trash. He comes looking for freedom from rushing and being late, from consumption, addiction, attachment, isolation, and blindness. Together in those fields they find freedom in surrendering to love and grace.
Jesus walked through the fields of Bethany to be with his community before he was to deliver his farewell discourse and offer the last supper. He goes to the place he raised his friend from certain death and sits for supper. It is the same place he visited years ago when Martha was busy serving and Mary sat, long before Lazarus died. Martha hasn’t changed a bit; she is still taking care of everyone, serving the supper. This is Jesus’ last visit before the events in Jerusalem usher in the crucifixion. It is a troubled field with air containing both joy and sorrow. John, Jesus cousin, had been killed, the opposition and crowds were growing and there was enough danger that Mary decided to use her burial oils. As she poured pure-scented nard on his bare feet she opened a space where humility meets courage. Wiping those same feet with her hair she consecrated a space where defiance meets surrender. It is the most troubled and holy space where life and death meet and lines once drawn in the sand fade with the slightest breeze and blur into love’s hold. It must have felt like a dream as the pain of the suffering they were encountering and the sweetness of the meal they were eating sealed that space on their beautifully troubled hearts. Drew might say that he now measures his days by the depth of compassion he feels, Ali might whisper that in her ocean of tears she feels close to her Lord, Melissa might add that being at this table fills her with unbelievable gratitude, Cynthia might describe that even though she has looked at for years, she is seeing for the first time, and Mike would add that around this troubled tabled, he has never felt so free. Then Judas, in his own troubled state, says the oils should have been sold. Those oils still filling the room with their perfume, become spark for the proclamation that I have come to understand as a great blessing on the journey, “the poor will always be with you”. In other words, Jesus is giving us the gift that our fields will always be troubled.
It is poverty that troubles our fields, wakes us up and sets us on holy ground. In witnessing poverty's cruelty we are moved to pour out our best oils to soothe suffering. It is our own poverty that assures us that enables us to see the richness of compassion. It’s not hard for me to imagine us sitting in this troubled place near the disciples.
By the fields on the side of the littered road at sunset, in the church where 1000 people came for a makeshift clinic, we sat with friends and ate. Then we sat in a circle with Michael and Will playing. We took our best oils, scented with lavender and geranium, and playing the part of Mary, we washed each other’s feet. Doctors, children, well workers, cooks, teachers, painters, and friends, bent down in gratitude the depth of love that rises from troubled fields. A beautiful woman I have known in San Eduardo for more than a decade was one of the first women to go to the oils to wash. She has survived brutal violence, built a new life literally brick by brick from taking in extra laundry, and talks of her troubles with grace. She, among the people and memories dancing in my head, preaches it is from troubled fields that we dream of new crops. It is where we find the will to keep working towards justice and walking towards our crosses to bear. In troubled fields where wealth and poverty, despair and hope kiss, we meet our Lord and are kept close to love.