History’s Jesus

A family record of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.
Matthew 1:1

As he guided us to and from sites in Israel, our guide’s other roles frequently emerged. Yossi is both an archaeologist and a professor of biblical religions. He is also an astute student of Israeli history and current events as well as of human nature. This became apparent when Yossi spoke of The Pilate Stone which was discovered in 1961. Archaeologists and historians agree that his small slab of limestone offers definitive proof that Pontius Pilate indeed existed and that he served as Roman Prefect. It was in this role that Pilate handed over Jesus to be crucified.

While making his commentary, Yossi added that there are some who continue to doubt the historical reality of Jesus. With that, he went into professor-mode to list secular sources which reference Jesus. The ancient historian Tacitus noted that Nero blamed Christians for the fire which destroyed Rome in 64 CE. Those Christians believed in “The Christ”. Another historian wrote that Pliny the Younger asked advice regarding how to deal with Christians since they included adults and children of both genders. In the Talmud, written by Jewish Rabbis between 70 and 200 CE, Jesus is referenced as a sorcerer among other things. Yossi maintained that these writers’ failure to endorse belief in Jesus promoted Christianity by proving in the secular arena that Jesus actually existed.

I’ve never considered the possibility that Jesus didn’t live among us. Though I realize there are people living on this earth who’ve never heard Jesus’ name, I’ve always considered Jesus’ life among us to be a given. Still, I wonder how evident this reality is in my life. Though I reference Jesus ad infinitum in my writing, do I reference Jesus in my living to that extent?

As I continue in my efforts to participate responsibly in our battle against COVID-19, I need to reflect the love Jesus taught me to share in all that I do.

Dear Jesus, thank you for your loving example.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Alive Again!

I hope this reference to our visit to the Holy Land eases each of us away from our current worries for a little while…

When we sailed on the Sea of Galilee, I couldn’t help smiling. I knew this adventure would be a high point of this trip. It was more than unlikely that we had followed the precise route Jesus had taken with his fishermen disciples when they sailed this sea. Still, the water beneath me, the sky above me and the hills in the distance were all part of the view Jesus enjoyed every time he ventured out onto Peter’s or another friend’s boat. Archaeologists tell us that the Israeli sailors who hosted us likely resemble Jesus and his contemporaries. Though their contemporary clothing suggested otherwise, their love for that boat, the water beneath them and the priceless view all around them ushered me back to Jesus’ day.

On this Fifth Sunday of Lent, we retell the story of Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus. Though Lazarus succumbed to serious illness and seemed lost to all who loved him, the scriptures tell us that Jesus changed everything for all concerned when he raised Lazarus from the dead. As I consider what Jesus did for Lazarus that day, I cannot miss the similarity between this event and what occurred with another of Jesus’ friends these two thousand years later. Though this would be my third voyage with Daniel Carmel, I knew I would never tire of sharing the story of how his newfound life with Jesus came about.

Daniel was born to a young unmarried Orthodox Jewish woman who gave him up for adoption. The secular Jewish family who made him their own had no faith to share with Daniel. However, they did have a lot of love and a happy home to share with their new son. Daniel and his family lived in the port city of Haifa. This proximity to water inspired Daniel’s love for the sea and his desire to become a boat captain one day. Daniel’s family also nurtured his love for music. They gifted him with a set of drums early on. Though Daniel enjoyed a nurturing upbringing, he endured a personal crisis while in his twenties. This death of sorts urged Daniel onto a quest deep within himself. Because his family hadn’t kept his adoption secret, Daniel continued his internal exploration by finding his birth family. Daniel found not only his mother, but also four siblings. With the hope of building relationships with them, Daniel relocated nearby. He stayed in a Kibbutz and found a job on a tour boat.

When I first heard this, I recalled our tour guide’s experience growing up in a Kibbutz. There was no talk of God there. I assumed Daniel’s newfound family were Orthodox Jews as his birth mother had been, so there would be no talk of Jesus with them. Offering tours of “holy” places is big business and certainly not a religious experience for local Jewish and Palestinian businessmen. I puzzled over what it was that prompted Daniel to take that extreme step toward Jesus. Amazingly enough, Daniel discovered Jesus’ tangible presence on the Sea of Galilee just as I had. For five years, he listened to his passengers talk about their belief in Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew) as they sailed. All the while, Daniel absorbed the prayers, the music and the scripture passages they shared. Every day, Daniel pondered all that he saw and heard. In the end, Daniel couldn’t help being moved. Something within Daniel came to life the day he realized that he also believed in Yeshua. Indeed, Yeshua had become Daniel’s most precious and life-giving treasure.

Daniel shares this treasure through his testimony and his music during boat tours and concerts in churches. Daniel sings the hymns which first inspired him. He has translated them into Hebrew for other Messianic Jewish believers to enjoy. Jesus’ passion for sharing God’s love is very much alive in Daniel. He expresses that passion in all he says and does in spite of being ostracized by many of his fellow Jews, secular and religious, who resent his belief in Jesus. As for me, Daniel’s music eases me into Jesus’ company every time I hear it.

It seems that Jesus has done for Daniel what he did for Lazarus so long ago. John’s gospel (John 11:1-45) tells us that, when Lazarus died, Jesus went to Lazarus’ sisters to comfort them. Martha and Mary responded by insisting that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had been with him. How many times I’ve looked upward and declared the same, “If you were here, things would be different!” Daniel Carmel insists that Jesus is with us, that his miracle was repeated in him and that it is repeated in you and me every time we survive one of the major and minor tragedies of this life. The best part of all of this is that we can imitate Jesus’ miracle in our own efforts to renew the lives of those we’ve been given to love. Today, this seems to be more important than ever!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

That Special Boat

He called them, and immediately they
abandoned their boat and their father to follow him.

From Matthew 4:21-22

While in Israel I had an encounter with a true relic which touched me deeply. Let me tell you about The Jesus Boat…

We read a good deal about fishermen and boats in the gospels. Though some of his followers abandoned their fishing businesses to follow Jesus, he went back to their boats often to get from place to place, to preach and to rest. Though no one can say with any certainty that Jesus set foot on The Jesus Boat, this vessel is definitely a relic from Jesus’ day. Because it was discovered just north of Magdala and just south of Tabgha, Jesus may have set eyes on this boat as he lingered on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

The day we sailed the Sea of Galilee, we also visited Kibbutz Ginosar where the Jesus boat is displayed. Before seeing it, we watched a short film which told the tale of Moshe and Yuval Lufan, brothers and fellow fishermen who discovered the ancient boat buried in mud near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Though I’m certain their parts in the film were well rehearsed, neither brother could hide his excitement over this discovery. Their treasure had shaken both the archaeological world and the spiritual world to their cores because no one had ever unearthed such an old vessel in such complete condition.

Though the science behind The Jesus Boat’s preservation is fascinating, I am more fascinated by Jesus’ presence in all of this. Once again, it matters little to me whether or not Jesus sailed in this particular boat. What does matter to me is the glimpse into Jesus’ daily life and the lives of those he loved which this boat afforded me. When I gazed upon that ancient relic, I imagined Jesus out on the water with his friends. That day, I experienced just a bit of the amazing adventure that must have been!

Current events compel me to acknowledge that the contemporaries of Jesus also suffered. Though in Israel I recalled the best times Jesus enjoyed on his friends’ boat, I must remember that they and that beloved boat also endured terrible storms. Do you remember the gospel story of Peter and the others who feared for their lives as they were being tossed from wave wave to wave by a powerful gale? In the midst of it all, Jesus suddenly appeared on the water. Though I don’t expect Jesus to embark on foot across Lake Michigan to ease my worries today, I do expect that he remains close enough to hear every prayer I utter. Best of all, he responds. Speak up, because he’s listening to you as well.

Dear God, thank you for being present in the joys and the sorrows of life on this earth. Hear our prayers and those of all of your people.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What Can I Do? Something…

“Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you.
And know that I am with you always…”

Matthew 28:20

While purging a kitchen drawer, I found a tiny plate which can’t be more than 5 inches in diameter. This antiquated memento features a sketch of President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy. Though this chipped bit of porcelain isn’t fine artwork, it elicited a smile. I quickly recalled the enthusiasm surrounding his candidacy. I followed the news to learn more about him and I cheered when he was elected. When Mr. Kennedy offered his inaugural speech, I learned about this man’s hope for the future. Our new president told us, “…ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.” At the time, I wondered. What could I do?

Though I was only in elementary school during this presidency, I recall Khrushchev’s rants and our fear of communism. I recall the worry surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis and the relief over its resolution. Though we fretted and prayed about such things, I felt safe. It was November 22, 1963, when everything changed. 1036 days into his term, President Kennedy was killed by an assassin.

On this difficult anniversary, regardless of our religious and political affiliations, I think we all have good reason to respond to Mr. Kennedy’s request. Today, I’m going to stop wondering. Today, I’m going to do something to make my little corner of this country a better place.

Patient and merciful God, you place your trust in us to care for this world and for one another. Today, inspire us all to do something to ensure that your trust is well-placed.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Best Teacher

My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.

Psalm 78:1-

Before we began a recent visit with our granddaughters, each one had a few minutes of homework to complete. Though the fifth grader’s word study page was easy-peasy, the seventh grader’s math threw me. Fortunately, she understood precisely what to do. The third grader’s math involved place value which, fortunately, hasn’t changed since I taught third grade. I secretly wished I could sit in on a class with any of my granddaughters, especially that seventh grader!

Early in my teaching career, I developed the skills I needed to reach my students. I began by getting the attention of my students. I then kept their attention by making what I had to say interesting and understandable. Finally, I gave them reason to remember what I shared.

Perhaps this is the reason Jesus repeated his lessons through his parables. When I doubt that I’m loved, I recall the parables of The Good Shepherd, The Pearl of Great Price and The Lost Coin. In each one, everything is set aside in order to pursue that which is lost. The message? Regardless of where I hide, God does whatever it takes to watch over me and to love me. When I doubt that I can possibly be forgiven, I recall the parables of The Prodigal Son, The Unjust Judge and The Friend at Midnight. The message? Regardless of how the world responds to my guilt, God always looks beyond what I have done to embrace me and to encourage me to be begin anew.

It seems to me that Jesus’ effort was well placed. Jesus’ lessons regarding God’s mercy and patience, forgiveness and love will remain with me always.

Generous God, thank you for gifting humankind with such a great teacher. Help us to take Jesus’ lessons to heart.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Have A Little Faith!

A few weeks ago, friends shared that they hope to travel to Alaska one day. Now I’m not the travel aficionado that my dear husband is. Nonetheless, six years ago, we traveled to Alaska in celebration of a milestone wedding anniversary. That trip evolved into an amazing adventure and I couldn’t help encouraging our friends to visit Alaska as soon as they can. “If there’s time, include a stop at Icy Straight Point,” I told them. “You can go zip riding there!” Our friends didn’t seem particularly interested in that bit of information. As for me, just this mention of my zip riding experience filled me with excitement. Not long after that conversation, I pulled out our Alaska photo album. I wanted to bask a little longer in the wonder I’d found in our Forty-ninth State.

When I opened the album, I recalled my reluctance the morning we left. Though we’d flown long distances before, I’d worried extensively in anticipation of our departure. After the flight, we’d board a cruise ship. This was our first cruise and I had no idea of what to expect. I worried about forgetting our passports. I worried about having packed appropriate clothing and I worried that the weather forecasts might be inaccurate. I worried about our excursions. Would we enjoy them all? I worried about seasickness because I’d never been on a ship before. Most of all, I worried about that first excursion: zip riding from a mountainside over the trees in Icy Straight Point.

I admit that I looked through our album twice that day. Both times, I lingered over a photo we’d purchased after zip riding. I recalled our sons’ amazement that we’d signed up for that adventure. They asked me several times if I was sure I wanted to do this. Our sons know their parents well. Their dad is a great fan of roller coasters and their mom is not. Though Mike enjoys flying anywhere, I don’t. I’m not a fan of heights and this completely out-of-character adventure would take me more than one thousand feet above ground for a mile-long ride. I would travel well above Alaska’s tallest treetops. Still, I felt called to embrace this adventure. When Mike joined our sons in questioning the wisdom of doing so, I assured him that I really, really had to do this.

As I stared at that photo, I remembered those anxious minutes just prior to sailing over those trees. We’d found our places and strapped ourselves into something like adult-sized baby swings. The man who would release us into the air checked every seatbelt. When he was certain that all was well, he announced, “Here you go!” With that, the gates before us dropped and we sailed –No, we sped!- down the mountainside over a forest. I remembered my amazement over just how high we were. I looked over the trees and onto the inlet where our cruise ship rested. I clearly recall letting go of that swing and extending my arms as far as they’d reach. As I stared at that photo, I repeated something similar to what I’d shouted six years earlier, “Thank you, God! Thank you so much! That really was awesome!” That day, I knew that I was nestled in the strongest and gentlest of hands. I’d also shared in one of God’s best kept secrets. I’d discovered why God keeps such diligent watch over Creation. There is nothing more beautiful! I also felt closer to God than ever. Was this the reason I simply had to go zip riding that day?

When I turned to today’s scripture readings, I found a trio of answers to my question. The readings from Habakkuk (1:2-3; 2:2-4), 2 Timothy (1:6-8, 13-14) and Luke (17:5-10) speak of the things which fuel our faith in God. Habakkuk complained that his life and the world around him were complete disasters. God responded by instructing Habakkuk to revisit his dreams because his dreams would be fulfilled. In the letter to Timothy, this young man is encouraged to hold tightly to his faith because he would find God in the end. In the gospel, Jesus summarized everything. He told his friends that faith as tiny as a mustard seed is capable of ordering a tree to uproot itself from the ground and to replant itself in the sea. Jesus explained that having faith doesn’t mean that this life will unfold perfectly. However, Jesus does say that if we have faith we can somehow make things happen the way we’d like them to happen. Having faith means that we do what we do because we truly believe that we can make a difference. Faith assures us that we will find peace and absolute joy with God here and in the hereafter.

You know, I would have missed a life-changing experience if I hadn’t climbed onto that zip rider and opened myself to what God had in store for me. That leap of faith exemplified precisely what God asks of us. God knows better than we do the difficulties of life on this earth. Still, God extends an encouraging hand and urges us on. All the while, God assures us that, when we embrace the moment, the hour, the day and the lifetime that lie before us, God will be with us all the while. This is what faith is all about, even faith as small as a mustard seed!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved