I had the great opportunity to visit Ecuador again this month, to be with the priest and the people in the town El Chontal where the new church was recently built. When I arrived in the capital city Quito, my plane got in late, and there, waiting all that time, was Fr. Julio, along with another friend Rita. Now, from the airport in the city it is a 3-hour drive to the little town, so, at 10 o’clock at night, we got to stay overnight in Quito. The next morning we would eat some breakfast, and head out on the 3-hour drive to El Chontal. Sounds like a good plan, right?
Well, we’re driving along the morning, and we go by the airport, and Fr. Julio’s face drops. “Oh, no.” What’s up? He forgot. We can’t leave the city this morning. We can’t even drive the car right now. What?
What they started doing in Quito because of all the horrible traffic, is they’ve set up a system so that you can’t drive for two rush-hours per week. They go by the last number in your license plate. If it ends in one or two, you can’t drive the peak hours on Monday, three or four and you can’t drive the peak hours on Tuesday, and different numbers like that for each week day. The government has a trendy name in Spanish for the system:
Pico y Placa. Peak hour license plate.
What was happening? Why was Fr. Julio so disappointed? Today was Tuesday, 7am, and Fr. Julio’s license plate ends in 3. And we’re on the road.
So we pull over and Fr Julio hops out to a bank machine, and while I’m sitting in the car, this motorcycle pulls up behind me, and then a little car, and then men surround the car and starting taking pictures from all different angles. The only flashing lights were camera flashes. I rolled down my window and tried to get Fr. Julio’s attention: “Umm, Padre? Padre?” More camera flashes.
Fr. Julio pleads his case in Spanish. Pico y Placa. No Mercy.
So a policeman gets into our back seat, and we drive to a locked up parking lot with other offending cars. We get out and take some paper work.
Then, they take these stickers and start to seal up everything that can be opened on the car. The hood, each door, the gas tank, the trunk. The car is going nowhere for the rest of the day. And that’s it – we’re on our own.
So there’s the car. The wheels that took Fr. Julio to visit the sick and the poor who are hungry for God, Pico y Placa had locked up to go nowhere. The doors that opened to let in an elderly woman who needed a 5-mile ride through the mountains, they locked and sealed shut. The trunk that held the bag filled with oranges, a man’s yield of work for the afternoon, to carry it home for him, they closed up and sealed empty. The horn that beeped at every person in the parish as they passed by and got a smile and greeting from every single one of them, they silenced.
We had to pay 80 bucks, and then we had to take a 3-hour bus ride to El Chontal. The next morning, Fr. Julio took it on himself to take another 3-hour bus ride back to Quito to pick up the car, and drive back the 3 hours.
The Pico y Placa people had put the biggest load on the very person who was lightening everyone else’s.
Pico y Placa. No Mercy.
I saw Fr. Julio when he got back, and there was the car again, back in business. It still had the stickers on it, the marks of its impoundment, but it was back, and Fr. Julio was back behind the wheel driving to the 27 pueblos he serves, giving rides and beeping and smiling. I asked him, do you have a name for the car? Without even the slightest hesitation, he replied with one word:
When Jesus went about doing His Father’s work with Him, opening hearts, raising up the poor, the sick, the sinners, and the oppressed, the authorities didn’t like it very much because He did it at the very time He was not supposed to, on the Sabbath. He had broken the rules, he violated the law, the law that was from God to make people’s lives easier. “No work on the Sabbath, you have done work on the Sabbath, therefore you must pay the price.” But they were blind to the whole point that “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.” (Mk 2:27-28) They put the biggest load on the very person who was lifting up everyone else. The chief priests and Pharisees and lawyers?
Pico y Placa. No Mercy.
So what did they do? They constantly watched him, looking for something to criticize and a possible error He might make. They found a chance to accuse him and surround him and seize him. The hands that touched a blind man’s eyes to get back his sight, they nailed fixed. The feet that took human salvation from one town to another to bring new life to multitudes of people, they fixed to never walk again. The mouth that spoke words that raised people from the dead, they stuffed with vinegar. The Heart that was opened to let in everyone who labored, they drained empty. They isolated and buried Him, with all of the most malicious people of the day.
But not too long afterwards, after He was left by them as dead and buried, something happened that turned it all rightside up. His Father reached down and raised Him up from the dead. Because the Father has a name for Jesus:
If you say yes to following the Lord, if you’re going to be someone doing His works of Mercy with Him and lifting people up, you’re going to encounter the rules people. You are going to experience Pico y Placa first hand. You will be impounded. “Remember the word I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” (Jn 15:20) But when you’re impounded, don’t despair, don’t be afraid. Remember that your Father will come for you, to free you and raise you up. Remember that He has a unique name for you.
But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you: I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.” (Is 43:1-4)