What Makes the Difference? by Jan Beiler

High on the mesa, beneath the clear blue of the Mexican sky, are crumbling remains. Years ago the owner of a silver mine lived in this very spot. With him lived his twelve wives, and no one knows how many children.

I stood in the center of the adobe courtyard and wondered how it must have felt to be one of those wives.  The courtyard wall had been the outer circumference of the living structure.  Rooms, not accessible to each other, opened into the yard.

In the center stood the remains of something, was it the cooking ring?  Did the wives take turns patting out tortillas on this flat rock and heating them over the fire, each for her  own brood of children?        Did the favorite wife have priority?  Did a less favorite wife cast dark looks as she shushed her hungry, crying toddler? Did each woman gather her children into her cubicle as the evening shadows fell and echoes of yipping coyotes on the trail of a jack rabbit, rolled in from the hills?  Did she hope her husband came to her that night or did she fear that he would?

What about the patriarch?  Did he ride his mule home from checking on his mines, and look across the hills at his vast land holdings, feeling like royalty returning to his humble subjects?  Or did he ride home with slumped shoulders wondering how he ever got himself into this mess?  The whole set up was so far from God’s plan for a home…  how could it have been a happy situation?

I thought about humble Jesús, faithful native member of the church, descendant of the silver mining genitor.  Jesús, who limps into church at nearly every service.  His black, thick framed glasses, held together by a length of lime green yarn. Jesus, with his tee shirt with the slogan ‘Ernesto Sigalo for presidente’, highly visible through his thin dress shirt.

Jesus, who halts painfully through the reading of his verse in Sunday school and who waits quietly while one of the young fellows helps him find the number in the song book, but joins in singing with full, rich fervor.  Jesus, who, right on cue, shuffles to the back of the auditorium, grasps the wooden offering box, and carries it to the front row. He faithfully attends it the whole way to the back, nodding agreeably as the coins plunk inside.  After the service, it is Jesus who shakes hands with everyone, and makes each one feel like the most important person present.

I thought about how it would feel to be the wife of Jesus.  He doesn’t have a silver mine as his grandfather did, just some cattle, and a smattering of turkeys.  He doesn’t have vast land holdings to gloat over, just a narrow strip of rocky soil. He isn’t rich and he isn’t polished, how can he be so happy?

What makes him provide a Christmas turkey for the missionary’s guests from the states?  What caused Jesus and his wife, Lola, to count out enough money from their meager savings to buy a block of cheese as a love gift for the missionaries?

Why is it that their home is a place for anyone to come with their troubles? Where, no matter who you are, you’re treated to a cup of coffee, a warm smile and a listening ear?

I can still see Jesus and Lola sitting together in their sunny kitchen, after the last drop of coffee, rich with sugar and creamer had disappeared and the last *sopaipilla had vanished, and they were satisfied they couldn’t get us another thing.

“Could you sing for us?” we asked.  “The song about the ovejas pedidas?”

Lola chuckled self consciously, and looked at her hands in her lap.  Jesus cleared his throat, threw his head back and together they launched into the song of the lost sheep.  What makes them have such a burden for the lost?

Could it be the joy they have experienced at being rescued by the Good Shepherd??? They haven’t forgotten the  ancient Jeep Wagoneer rattling into the village of La Esperanza all those years ago bringing the gospel to fan the flickering flame in their hearts.  The flame of longing for something better, something that would make a difference.

*Sopaipillas are deep fried tortillas which are rolled in a mixture of confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon while they are still warm.  With honey drizzled over top, they are delicious.

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