He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
Nothing is sustainable here. Not even life is sustainable here.
-Blanca, 25-year veteran of the Pastoral Team of Berlín
Fertilizer still does not seem like a stable, long-term solution for Berlín-area farmers.
According to our human understandings of sustainability, fertilizer projects seem like an unsustainable long-term solution because they do not change the systems of farming or of food sustainability and sovereignty in El Salvador. And according to our American understandings of development and progress, fertilizer does not seem like a “successful” venture: it does not produce much more wealth, more jobs, or significant economic changes in a community.
However, God’s idea of what constitutes sustainable solutions, of success, simply does not match ours. For God, the only thing that is truly sustainable is God’s Kingdom: the imperfectly-immanent-but-still-present places and situations in our own world where God’s reality breaks into ours. In our work, these are the places and situations where people are truly humanized and empowered to make their own decisions and where we help make those decisions possible—which tells them that we recognize their humanity, their struggle, their lives.
This is what God sees as sustainable. This is what will be preserved at the End of All Things, when God removes from the world all that is not love, not peace, not hope, not of God. This is what will remain when all else is gone: real relationships, real unity, and real love. This is God’s idea of sustainability.
Jesus did not overthrow the Roman Empire or Israel’s religious establishment. He did not change the oppressive social systems of his time—at least not in his short 33 years on earth. His solution was to be present with us in this messy world and in doing so, teach us how to build the Kingdom of God, the New Creation, inside the shell of the old world.
Is the Kingdom of God sustainable? Of course it isn’t, at least not in a traditional, capitalistic sense. It is not meant to survive in the same way that a business survives: by profits triumphing over expenses and producing some tangible or measurable good, whether that good be a pair of socks or a web browser. It is a gentle, fragile, living thing that is so much more than inputs and outputs. And of course it cannot survive without nurturing, without being held gently in our hands, planted and watered gingerly, kneaded constantly. Our work on it is never done. It continues our required engagement, love, participation, patience, and attention—and that is the point.
This work is slow—have you ever watched plants grow or bread rise?—but Jesus teaches us that the seeds are in the field and the leaven is in the dough. We are called to water and knead in faithfulness. The systems will change, in time. We will work to change those systems when and where we can, though we at OSP certainly do not have the power or political clout to change them on our own. In the meantime, we must strive to preserve the seed of Eternal Life that we find in these communities—and that means preserving both their physical lives and the organization that allows them to build a better future for themselves. Fertilizer projects are an important part of this work.