Home Again

Now it happened that, while Jesus was at table in Matthew’s home, many tax collectors
and those known as sinners came to join Jesus and his disciples at dinner.

Matthew 9:10

When I saw Capernaum on our Israel itinerary, I smiled. “This will be familiar territory,” I told myself. After leaving Nazareth to begin his work among us, Jesus settled in Capernaum. This fishing and farming town was the home of Peter, James, Andrew, John and Matthew who eventually became his disciples. Much to the Jewish people’s dismay, Capernaum was also home to many who were in service to the Romans including tax collectors. Those who did such work were ostracized. Their countrymen and the temple leaders believed that doing the work of pagans made these people pagans as well.

One evening while Jesus ate dinner with Matthew, several of his fellow tax collectors came to join them. This infuriated the Pharisees who demanded to know why Jesus would associate with such sinners. As for Jesus, he responded in the way which would become his hallmark. After explaining that the healthy and self-righteous had no need of him, Jesus told the Pharisees to learn the meaning of a line from their scripture: It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice.

Though Capernaum has a rich history dating back three millenniums before Jesus, it is Jesus’ openness to even the most despised of humanity which endears this small town to me. As I looked over the remains of the second century synagogue there, I imagined Jesus’ earliest followers telling tales of the man who loved every single one of them.

Loving God, help me to follow Jesus’ example and to reach out to everyone who comes my way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Home Again!

When he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

Luke 15:20

Every morning while we toured Israel, I checked our itinerary before we set out for the day. This helped me to retrieve what I knew about each site. In addition to historical and geographical tidbits regarding these places, events related to Jesus of Nazareth came to mind. As a result, I arrived at each destination with a heart open to the gifts of the new day.

I clearly recall the day we were headed toward the Mount of the Beatitudes, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee and Magdala. A sense of homecoming quickly enveloped me as I considered scripture passages related to these places. The events I recalled made me feel as though I was returning to revive ancient memories. Oddly, I felt expectantly anxious to get to the heart of what had occurred at each one.

Though I’ll supply details later, today, it is enough to say that I was never disappointed. I may not have stood on the precise patch of ground where Jesus spoke the beatitudes or multiplied loaves and fishes. I may not have stepped in Mary Magdalene’s footprints. I may not have sailed Jesus’ course on the Sea of Galilee. Still, I felt that I walked where I was meant to walk in order to rekindle important relationships from long ago. I wouldn’t have felt more at home if I had been the prodigal son whose father kissed him and embraced him to welcome him home after a far too long absence.

Loving God, thank you for being present to me and for welcoming me into every moment.
With you, the time is always right.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Find The Time

All who touched him got well.
From Mark 6:56

Lent 2020 begins tomorrow. Every year, I try to set aside these forty days much the way a couple sets aside time to be together. If my husband and I are smart enough to retreat in order to nurture our love for each other, it makes sense to do the same in our relationships with God. So it is that I’m attempting to recapture the zeal of my childhood Lents by planning ahead for this special walk to Easter.

I’m at an advantage this year because images of Jesus’ homeland are etched into my memory. While in the Holy Land, I couldn’t help seeing Jesus’ shadow among the crowds in Jerusalem, in the dusty desert, near the synagogue in Magdala and on the paths winding through Capernaum. The gospels leave little doubt regarding Jesus’ popularity with ordinary people. His palpable presence everywhere I turned touched my heart. Though the temple hierarchy saw Jesus as a threat and the Romans considered him a nuisance, those of little or no stature -including me- find everything in him. This is the reason Lent is so precious to me. It gives me the time to get to know more about that irresistible Jesus who doesn’t need a thing from any of us, but who longs for our company just the same.

Today, let’s begin to plot our Lenten journeys. On Ash Wednesday, let’s assume our places among Jesus’ contemporaries. Let’s seek him out in every nook and cranny we pass along the way. Let’s seek him out in those we love, in those who love us and in those who need our love more desperately than ever. Trust, he will be in all of those places.

Dear God, as I prepare for my Lenten journey, encourage me with a glimpse of that heart which is blind to my imperfections and loves me as I am.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Palm Sunday… So It Begins…

I find that preparing for Holy Week is much like preparing for a family member’s final farewell. The week will be filled with reminiscing, memories good and bad, some regret and a measure of consolation. Holy Week is our opportunity to walk with our loved one through his final moments. Heartbreaking as this will be, we will also lay him in what was meant to be his final resting place. All the while, we’ll consider all that we’ve been through together, what we’re proud of and what we wish we’d done differently. “Holy” is the perfect descriptor for the week we will spend acknowledging Jesus’ loving presence in this world and in our lives.

This Holy Week, I will revisit my walk through the Holy Land. This is Palm Sunday and my thoughts turn to Jerusalem. The people who encountered Jesus offered him a raucous welcome on that first Palm Sunday. Our treks through Jerusalem’s market places gave me a taste of the frenzy in which Jesus must have arrived in the Holy City. Did some of those who cheered Jesus that day also join the crowd who screamed “Crucify him!” later in the week? While considering this possibility, I’ll take a mental trip to the Western Wall. This ancient embankment once served as a retaining wall for the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism. Jesus frequented the temple which rested there. Jesus predicted this temple’s eventual destruction which did occurred at the hands of the Romans in 70 CE. It was likely in or near this temple that Judas forged his agreement with the Pharisees to betray Jesus. While in Israel, I prayed at the Western Wall with my fellow pilgrims. Today, I shudder over Judas’ work there. Little did the poor man realize that his regret for this deed would lead him to a far more troubling brink a few days later.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I will consider the life which brought Jesus to this difficult week. Jesus’ lived in difficult times. It is no wonder that the people found hope in what Jesus said and did. When Jesus offered God’s compassionate love as well, how could they resist following him? On Holy Thursday, I’ll revisit Jesus’ last meal with his closest friends. While Judas wrestled with his plan, the disciples made arrangements for Passover. The Franciscan monastery near where this gathering likely took place houses a life-sized sculpture of this unforgettable meal. When I entered, the scene before me took my breath away. Though I attempted to put myself into the mindset of Jesus’ friends, I found it difficult to imagine what they were thinking. They’d shared a good deal of wine as they ate. They’d also shared a good deal of fear since no one was certain of how their Passover observance would end. It was when I turned to a lone statue standing in the shadows of the chapel that I found some consolation. This image of Mary Magdalene portrayed a loving calm which was absent at the table. Mary’s heart surely ached as she watched Jesus and the rest. Still, had she listened so carefully to Jesus’ teaching that she was convinced that the God of Israel would never abandon him? Had she seen Jesus’ strength so often that she knew he would endure until the end? This week, I will meditate with Mary regarding all that she saw in Jesus.

On Good Friday, I will envision three crosses looming above me in the afternoon sun. I will watch as Jesus hangs there with the others who share his death sentence. After dragging the crossbeam of that cross through the narrow and crowded streets of the ancient city, Jesus likely fell before the soldiers who nailed him in place. When the cross was positioned in the ground, Jesus’ flesh tore all the more as he struggled to breathe. There was nothing reverent about the scene which Jesus observed from his wooden deathbed. Soldiers nearby casted lots for Jesus’ clothing. No one was allowed to approach Jesus-the-Insurgent. Nonetheless, many passersby jeered from afar. Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, John and the others likely watched in horror from a small distance. After three very long hours, Jesus completed his work and his suffering in this world.

This is Holy Week. Though there is sadness to share as we walk with Jesus through his last days, there is also joy to be found. Jesus’ story didn’t end on the cross. Jesus’ story didn’t end in the tomb I reverenced in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Jesus’ story continued into the garden outside the tomb where he greeted Mary Magdalene that first Easter morning. Jesus’ story continued in his every appearance thereafter. Jesus’ story continues within you and me and all of God’s people. This is Holy Week. Come, walk with him as his story continues.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Pebble or a Rock?

“And I say to you that you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church…”
From Matthew 16:18

While checking my journal from this trip to Israel, I found a curious quote from our guide Yossi. Much to my dismay, I failed to record his entire comment. Still, I recall my interest when Yossi used a word derived from “cephas” to describe a type of mosaic he’d pointed out. When I responded with a puzzled look, Yossi explained that it was given this name because it was made from pebbles. “Mary, you know this. Pebbles. Little rocks!” As I write it occurs to me that I didn’t get Yossi’s full explanation because I was distracted by that familiar word: cephas.

If you have had any exposure to the gospels, the line I cite above is likely familiar to you. Though I chose to quote Matthew, other writers included similar words in their accounts of this incident. I’ve read both the Greek “Petros” and the Aramaic “Cephas” in these passages which I correctly interpreted as “rock”. Still, when Yossi used “cephas” to reference tiny pebble-sized mosaic pieces, he gave me a good deal to think about regarding Jesus’ selection of Peter as the foundation of his church.

While Yossi went on to explain the origin of that mosaic, I drifted into the moment when Jesus turned to Simon and renamed him Peter. He not only called Simon “Rock”; he also told Simon that he would be the rock upon which Jesus would build his church. I laughed to myself as I wondered, “What if Jesus actually meant to call Simon a pebble? What if Jesus was actually in the process of beginning another miracle here? What if Jesus was showing us all that, even though Simon was a pebble in the grand scheme of things, he was pebble enough to take on an amazing role in Jesus’ work?”

Now I am no scripture scholar and I won’t argue with the numerous commentaries which offer the traditional interpretation of Jesus’ words here. Still, I find great hope and great consolation in the possibility that Jesus could do so much with a pebble like Simon. What might he do with a pebble like me?

O Creative God, you fill us with possibilities from the moment we take our first breaths. Thank you for having such great faith in us, whether we are pebbles, rocks or boulders.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

At Home In Capernaum

Now it happened that, while Jesus was at table in Matthew’s home… those known as sinners came to join Jesus and his disciples at dinner.
Matthew 9:10

I was very excited to return to Capernaum on this trip. “This is familiar territory,” I told myself. Yossi share my enthusiasm as he remarked, “This is most important among the sites of Jesus’ work.” It was the place that Jesus came to after leaving Nazareth to begin his public ministry. This fishing and farming town was home to Peter, James, Andrew, John and Matthew, all of whom eventually became his disciples. Much to the Jewish people’s dismay, Capernaum was also home to many who were in service to the Romans. Those who did such work were ostracized. Their countrymen and the temple leaders believed that doing the work of pagans made these people pagans as well.

Matthew was a tax collector. One evening, several of his fellow tax collectors joined him for dinner. This infuriated the Pharisees who demanded to know why Jesus would associate with such sinners. As for Jesus, he responded in the way which would become his hallmark. After explaining that the healthy and self-righteous had no need of him, Jesus told the Pharisees to learn the meaning of a line from their scripture: It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice.

Though Capernaum has a rich history dating back three millenniums before Christ, Jesus’ openness to even the most despised of humanity is the treasure which endears this small town to me. As I looked over the remains of the second century synagogue there, I imagined Jesus’ earliest followers telling tales of the man who loved every single one of them.

Loving God, help me to follow Jesus’ example and to reach out to everyone who comes my way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved