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

Jesus In History

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 we visited the Israeli Museum. Yossi led us to 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 actually 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 ad infinitum?

As I continue in my efforts to spend quality time with Jesus this Lent, I need to reflect this effort in all that I do.

Dear Jesus, thank you for your loving example.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

You, You are my God!

My husband-the-deacon has been ordained for twenty-nine years and has preached homilies all the while. I have written this reflection for my parish bulletin for twenty-five of those years. In the process, Mike has occasionally run an idea past me. He’s also served as my part-time proof-reader. Still, we have never offered the same interpretation of a given week’s scriptures. While we’ve rarely disagreed on the focus of the passages, we have shared the wisdom we’ve drawn from them quite differently. This has been the case until today. When I read today’s gospel, I recalled a homily Mike preached at least a dozen years ago. Though I had no intention of echoing his sentiments in this reflection, I couldn’t shake the image of Mike walking back and forth in front of the altar as he spoke. After setting the scene, he suddenly stopped to say, “You! You are the Picard!” Let me explain…

My dear husband is an avid Star Trek fan. This began with the original television series and continued through Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Star Trek movies. Some years ago, after a rerun of The Next Generation, Mike announced, “There’s a good homily in that one!” Apparently, Mike filed that information away until months later when he read the same gospel we hear today in preparation for his preaching. He was very excited when he realized that would be the week he’d deliver his Star Trek-inspired homily. As for me, my thoughts and I headed in another direction as I ran up the stairs and sat at my keyboard to write. Though I can’t recall how I progressed that day, I can tell you that Mike had his homily fully prepared within a few hours. His only request of me was my opinion regarding the suitability of a Star Trek scenario for this purpose. After assuring him that this would be more than fine, I returned to my writing.

The following Sunday, Mike shared his love of Star Trek and Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s startling encounter with an alien race. Though the inhabitants of this planet in a distant galaxy looked human, they were quite primitive even by our 2017 standards. This was particularly troubling to Captain Picard and his crew. While exploring new worlds, they were bound by The Prime Directive which indicated that they must never interfere with the development of alien cultures. They were never to impose their own technological, scientific and other intellectual evolution upon people who had not yet discovered such things on their own. In this case, the aliens had witnessed the capabilities of the captain and his landing party before they realized what had happened. Much to their dismay, the crew’s arrival in bright lights and their seemingly magical powers closely resembled the “coming” of this people’s god as described in their holy writings. When the planet’s natives approached the good captain to offer their welcome, they dropped to their knees. Without hesitation, their leader announced, “You! You are the Picard!” The captain was beside himself because he had inadvertently violated The Prime Directive. Captain Picard was even more upset because he was being looked upon as a god, an extremely uncomfortable role for any of us. Fortunately, which is always the case in a Star Trek episode, everything ended well, as did Mike’s homily that weekend.

In today’s gospel (Matthew 16:13-20), Matthew chronicled a conversation between Jesus and his closest friends. Eventually, Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” Some responded with what they’d heard on the street, that Jesus may have been John the Baptizer or the prophet Elijah. While they were quite willing to repeat what had come from the lips of others, none would declare what was in his heart except Peter. “You are the Christ,” Simon Peter proclaimed, “the Son of the Living God.” When he acknowledged God’s presence, Peter changed everything. Suddenly, Peter was much more than the often-outspoken and sometimes-unthinking student of an itinerant rabbi. Suddenly, Peter’s life took on new meaning because of his close association with God. Though Peter failed to fully understand the logistics of that relationship, he certainly understood what it meant to have Jesus at his side.

Though Captain Picard flinched a bit at representing a god to those primitive people, he eventually found a way to use their acceptance of him to guide them onto the right path. In the end, he left their culture intact while leaving them a little better off than they were before they had met. Poor Peter quickly found himself in a similar predicament. He may have wondered, “I’m with the Christ! Now what am I to do?” The scriptures tell us that though Peter’s subsequent efforts weren’t always perfect, he was certainly instrumental in revealing God’s love to this world. It seems to me that our prime directive is to do the same as best we can and as only we can.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Body of Christ

As is my custom, I began Memorial Day with morning Mass. Our young priest arrived a few minutes after I did with his Apple iPad in hand. I smiled in anticipation of the homily which Father Dave’s tablet assured me he had prepared. As I knelt to settle myself, an unexpected measure of peace filled me up. I mentioned to the Lord God that I appreciated this quiet departure from the sometimes frenetic pace which I so often experience on Sunday mornings. Mass continued and the peace remained until Father Dave surprised me with the gospel. I had not read it ahead of time as I normally do before Sunday Masses. This passage (Mark 10:17-27) referenced the rich young man who sought guidance from Jesus. He had observed the commandments since he was a boy and wished to know what more was necessary for him to enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus asked the young man to do just one more thing. “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven,” Jesus told him. Apparently, this “one more thing” was more than the young man could manage because he had many possessions. The gospel tells us that he left Jesus and went away with a heavy heart.

Father Dave began his homily by citing Steve Jobs who sometimes ended corporate presentations with “one more thing.” These little add-ons often featured another Apple product which would transform our technological lives once again. Father Dave noted that Jesus also transformed the lives of his followers frequently with his numerous requests for “one more thing”. When someone struck a person’s cheek, Jesus said to offer the assailant the other cheek as well. When someone asked for another’s tunic, Jesus said to offer this borrower a cloak as well. When the disciples asked if they must forgive their enemies seven times, Jesus told them to forgive those who harm them seventy times seven times.

As I considered Father Dave’s observations, I realized that this “one more thing” business had taken root long before Jesus began his public life. When Mary agreed to be the Mother of Jesus, she also had to somehow explain the situation to her loved ones. When Joseph agreed to take the pregnant Mary as his wife, he then had to travel to faraway Bethlehem to participate in a census just days before Jesus’ birth. Though both Mary and Joseph had their hands full as all new parents do, they also had to flee to Egypt to save little Jesus from the wrath of Herod. There always seemed to be “one more thing” required of those who remained in Jesus’ company.

As Mass continued, it occurred to me that Jesus himself habitually did “one more thing” without being asked to do so. When Jesus left the comforts of heaven to become one of us, he might have come as a wealthy man. Rather, he joined the ranks of the poor. While Jesus lived a fully human life, he also revealed Divine Love in everything he said and did. Rather than seeking followers who wielded power among the people, Jesus sought out misfits and the forsaken. In spite of their frequent lack of understanding, Jesus taught his disciples day in and day out with both his words and his example. When asked for physical healing, Jesus offered spiritual healing as well. When asked to open the eyes of a blind person, Jesus opened his heart as well. The night before he knew he was going to die, Jesus shared a meal with his disciples. He had already given his followers everything he had to offer. Still, in the midst of their Passover supper, Jesus did one more thing to convince his friends that he would always be with them. Jesus took bread, blessed it and asked his disciples to take and eat it. “This is my body,” he assured them. Jesus also took the cup and said “This is my blood.” After doing one more thing by sharing himself, Jesus requested the same of the rest of us: “Do this in memory of me.”

This is the Feast of The Body and Blood of Christ and we have much to celebrate. These precious gifts foreshadowed the ultimate gift which Jesus offered when he gave himself up on the cross. In spite of the depth of this giving, Jesus did one more thing. He rose from the dead, not to return to heaven, but to spend forty more days among us. With each appearance, Jesus assured us that every effort to do one more thing is a sound investment which will yield everlasting profits. When we do one more thing to assist another soul along the way, we celebrate God Among Us as Jesus did. When we do one more thing to express God’s love to one another, we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ by bringing Christ to this world.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved