He Did Not Own the Field
By the Rev. Michael Mulberry
July 24, 2005 (Cycle A, Proper 12)
Text: Matthew 13:31-33
Ernesto seemed indifferent to the pleas of his spouse. “Please, Ernesto, these missionaries are very nice people. They speak the message of Christ and there was a time when that meant something to you.”
“They do not speak Christ’s message. They speak of heaven, and Christ talked of heaven on earth.”
“Is that what you and your friends are doing by cutting brake lines, burning fields, and planting mines? Bringing heaven to earth?”
Ernesto dropped his head.
“Besides,” Natalia continued, “these missionaries are helping us to form a collective of weavers. They hope to sell our things in the States, with their church. They don’t talk of heaven . . . “
Ernesto interrupted, “Our lives matter little to them. They are doing penance for some great sin. Even if they knew what they were a part of, they wouldn’t be able to end it.”
“I must go,” Natalia said. “The meeting starts soon. Just please don’t get caught! Whatever you are doing, don’t get caught,” she called back, leaving Ernesto to finish his dinner.
Ernesto would have to hurry as well. He was supposed to meet Samuel and Diana at 4:30 p.m. He arrived to find them hunched over maps. They greeted each other, and in the greeting, Samuel and Diana could tell that something was up. They waited.
“So Natalia tells me there are new missionaries in Paraíso and asks me if we are bringing heaven to earth. What does it mean? Are we doing the right thing?
Diana squatted down beside Ernesto, to reason with him, though he never looked her in the eye. “Remember, Ernesto, when you didn’t question what we were doing? That big finca, the one owned by the man who lives in Oaxaca, who used to own part of that land?”
She hit him in the arm. “You did, Ernesto. You did. Remember? Remember? You grew beans there. Not only to sell but for Samuel’s family and your family. Now what do they grow there, Ernesto?”
Diana hit him in the arm again. “Flowers, Ernesto. Flowers! Does Jaime eat flowers, Ernesto? Remember what farm we burned first, Ernesto? Remember?”
Samuel picked his head up from the maps and turned to talk to both of them. “Father Guillermo used to talk about the mustard seed. He said it was a weed that once planted in the field, took over the whole field. He used to say that, ‘Gringos talk about something small becoming something big, but they have never lost a field like Jesus had. Jesus was a carpenter, right? No land. That means his family owned no land. So Jesus knew that fields owned by the plantation owners . . . they needed mustard seeds.’
“I think we are planting mustard seeds in Ocosingo, in Altimirano, all over the place. Ernesto, you know this, Natalia is repeating the gospel of those who own the fields. Jesus spoke the gospel of those who didn’t own the fields.”
Ernesto nodded, agreeing with Samuel. “I just sometimes forget when Natalia believes so strongly what they say.”
Diana and Samuel shook their heads. They knew what he was saying. How hard it was not to believe the gospel of those who owned the fields. They owned the newspapers, the stores, the political office. You could hear their gospel in your sleep. Your dreams were haunted by its lies, your life was lived in the soup of its pot.
Samuel waved Diana and Ernesto over to the table. He paused before he began to speak and then looked directly at Ernesto. “Diana and I were talking about the missionaries in Paraíso before you arrived. They have the women convinced that help comes from the States. It is a lie and we’ve seen this before. They will return to Chicago and forget all about Paraíso. They give false hope.”
A long silence followed as Samuel and Diana looked at Ernesto. Diana intentionally broke the silence. “No one would suspect me. I’ll cut the lines. I’ve been in the community before, and . . . “
“It’s o.k.,” Ernesto cut in, “we’ve always done the closest so that we have the community’s support, and, Diana, you have never, ever been to Paraíso, so I think your Chenhalo traje would arouse suspicion.”
They all laughed. Ernesto would dismiss himself from services (after all, they lasted for three hours) and end up underneath their car chasing a soccer ball he knew would be part of the youth group play an hour or so into the worship.
Samuel and Diana stared long and hard at Ernesto after the plans were set. “Please do not worry about me. They own the field, and I am planting the mustard seed. Little do they know that I’m using a Bible story as reason to cut their brake line.”
They all laughed—nervously, with the understanding that the lives they had chosen allowed very little hearty and guilt-free laughter. Always with what they did came the doubt of their convictions, came a need to keep each other self-assured. It took only to return to their communities, mourn the death of another malnourished child, have someone return after being “interrogated” by the army for a trumped up drug charge, bludgeoned by weapons from the States—that their resolve was strengthened and hardened.
“Who owns the field?” Ernesto kept repeating to himself later that night, drifting off to sleep. He dreamed of Acteal, a community much like his own, where the people were killed, and the only prison time given to a retired general was for possessing weapons. He was given two years for the death of 47 people. Ernesto felt himself sinking into the soup, remembering people from his community who received 35 years for opposing government policies to overrun land and sell it off to large finca owners. The soup was deep and was of no nourishment.
Worse than any dreams of Chamulans, Ernesto then saw a beautiful field replete with flowers and fruits. Whites were there smelling the beautiful flowers close to their noses, biting and sucking on the succulent fruits so that the juice dribbled down their chins and necks. They laughed and ate, ate and laughed. Ernesto picked up one of the rich fruits from the field and took a large bite. The taste was rotten, immediately made his stomach turn, bloated his tongue, and left him screaming on the ground.
There on the ground he saw his son, Jaime, looking near death, yellow eyes and hollow cheeks. He reached for Jaime, but the child went toward one of the bright flowers, pullet it from its stem and engorged himself on the petals. He then saw Jaime slowly die. “No!” Ernesto screamed. “Give me back my field!” He reached for Jaime, but his soured belly would not allow him to move.
Almost instinctively, Ernesto reached into his pocket and pulled out small seeds. As hard and as far as he could, he flung the seeds out into the field. He kept reaching into his pocket and throwing out more and more seeds. He heard screaming and chopping sounds behind him. Ernesto could tilt his head back to see Diana cutting down one of the most beautiful trees in the field. Screaming and yelling, she lifted her axe again to try and cut down the tree.
Ernesto was awakened by the movement of headlights and the sound of jeeps coming through the slats of his home. Several people emptied into his home. He was pulled through the doorway by several people, taken out into the main courtyard. There a gun was put to his head and Ernesto was executed.
He did not own the field.