Cortney Freshwater, a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in Bolivia, reflects on God's patience with us and our call to patiently work in God's vineyard in turn.
I shall let it go to waste, unpruned, undug, overgrown by brambles and thorn-bushes, and I shall command the clouds to rain no rain on it. (Isaiah 5:6). After hearing this message from today's first reading, partnered with the violent parable of the Gospel, I wasn’t exactly left feeling inspired. However, much like people and their stories of violence and tragedy, there is always something to see – to learn – below the surface.
So I went back to the first reading and read it over and over again. This time, it became clear how relevant the message was in my own life. How many times have I fallen short and disappointed myself, God, or the people that I love? How many times have other people done this to me, and how did I respond?
Here, in the first reading, God is the owner of a vineyard.T he owner made every possible preparation for a fruitful harvest – choosing a good site, clearing the land of any weeds or obstacles, ensuring high quality vines, and arranging for the protection and process of the grapes. God eagerly awaited to see the fruit of the work – the development of the vineyard – expecting the best, yet ultimately left disappointed when only wild grapes grew and overtook the vineyard.
We are the grapes, the vineyard. We are the ones who, despite the immense amount of work and love poured into us by God, fall short more often than not. The disappointment is even expressed directly in the reading by God – What more could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done? Why, when I expected it to yield fine grapes, has it yielded wild ones? In my opinion, disappointment and frustration are some of the worst feelings, regardless if you are on the giving or receiving end of them.
However, there is hope! Despite the theme of disappointment, violence, and injustice, I found a great amount of beauty in this reading. I like to think of God as a generous, all-loving God, one who will continuously pick us up, encourage us, and offer love and forgiveness, rather than judgment. One that understands that it is in our human nature to make mistakes, choose the wrong path occasionally, and sometimes hurt the ones we love. So if God can do this for us, shouldn’t we try to do the same for others?
I am currently serving in Cochabamba, Bolivia, as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner. As I navigate working in a new culture, I have continuously been challenged to do this exact thing that the Gospel calls for: to choose patience and understanding rather than frustration.
One of my ministries is in Entre Ríos, a pueblo five hours outside of the city. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I would go the first week of every month to do home visits and educational work with children with disabilities. Just as God did with the vineyard, I would prepare for weeks leading up to my trip to Entre Ríos, knowing that I had limited time to visit each family and do all of the planned activities. I found that, despite all of my preparation, things would not always go the way I wanted – a family wouldn’t be home the day I was to visit, rain would fall heavily as I walked from house to house, or a child would be having a bad day and refuse to work. Needless to say, it was easy to let frustration, anger, and disappointment take over.
Instead, I found that having patience and understanding was the better route to take – for myself and for the families I was working with. I have forgotten events or meetings before; I have no control over Mother Nature; and how often did I want to work with a teacher after school when I was a child? Never. The point is that once I chose to offer love more freely than judgment, the benefits flowed just as freely. I was able to encourage and celebrate the small moments with my students, connect with parents, and let all frustration go. By doing so, I found that I too felt freer, more joyful. It took more than a few trips for me to grant myself this freedom, but it was beyond worth it. So the next time things aren’t going your way, even after lots of planning and hard work, just pause for a minute, think of this reading, and ask yourself: How am I going to respond today?
Photo of Cortney Freshwater, MKLM, with a Bolivian child, courtesy of Cortney Freshwater.