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

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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

Thank You, Neighbors!

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
From Mark 12:31

I don’t have the time to post two reflections in a single day. Still, yesterday’s activity in my snow-covered neighborhood compels me to do just that.

Several inches of snow had fallen overnight. Local schools were closed and some of the neighbors worked from home. A few others had unavoidable obligations which prevented them from clearing their walks and driveways. After fortifying ourselves with breakfast and coffee (okay, my husband had the coffee), we bundled up and headed outdoors to tackle our driveway and then move on to the neighbors’.

While Mike started our snowblower and I grabbed a shovel, two more snowblowers arrived on the scene. Our neighbor Ron from down the block had already cleared his own driveway and those of two neighbors on his side of the street. He’d come down the block to begin his fourth driveway just across the street from us. Our other neighbor Mike had done his own drive and was finishing up another neighbor’s driveway on our side of the street. When he saw us, he aligned his snowblower with my husband’s. They cleared our driveway in a few minutes. As for me, I had only the front walk and the steps outside our the back door to deal with. When I thanked the guys for their efforts, they looked surprised. In their minds, they simply did what any neighbor would do.

Though yesterday’s outdoor temperature was uncomfortably cold, I came into the house after shoveling the snow feeling warm to my core. That’s what happens when we neighbors simply do what any neighbor would do.

Loving God, help me to love all of the neighbors whom I meet along the way as simply and as generously as my snow-moving neighbors loved me yesterday.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Hometown Welcome

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 is 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 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.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Who Am I?

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist;
others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered,
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Matthew 16:13-16

On our way to the River Jordan, we stopped at Banias Spring. I admit that I had no recollection of this place until I checked our tour itinerary. I discovered this spring is one of the main sources of the Jordan River and the home of Israel’s largest waterfall. The area’s long ago inhabitants seemingly appreciated its beauty and utility. The City of Dan was located there in biblical times. On a ledge above rested Fort Dan which stood before a cave dedicated to the Greek god Pan. Later, the Romans and King Herod himself ruled there. When Herod’s son Philip took over, he renamed the area Caesarea Philipi, not to be confused with the other Caesarea on the Mediterranean which was also Herod’s city.

All of this information set my head spinning until I recalled a small, but important detail regarding this place. The passage above from the New Testament tells us this is the place where Jesus asked his closest friends what the people were saying about him. As you have already read, Simon Peter was brave enough to respond.

Every site I visited in Israel revealed more of Jesus’ identity to me. If he asked the same question of me today, I would respond, “You are the source of everything I know about God. I live as I do because of you.”

Dear God, help me to reveal your presence in all that I say and do.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

N… Names, Our Loving Labels

At daybreak, he called his disciples and selected twelve of them to be his apostles: Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter…
Luke 6:13

N is for Name. My full given name is Mary Ellen. Though I’ve gone by Mary since I began high school, my family continues to use this designation for me. The single exception over the years was offered by Auntie Bertha. Bertha is actually my mother’s cousin, but her standing in the family compelled us to lovingly assign her the title of “auntie”. Bertha was an extremely loving and fun-loving woman. In an effort to express her love for me, Auntie Bertha consistently called me “Margaret Mary”. When I asked the reason for this misnomer, Auntie Bertha told me, “Margaret Mary is my favorite name and it’s perfect for you!” The implication regarding my standing in her heart was not lost on me.

I believe that God fully understands the value of our names as well. God renamed Abram when God sent him off. This Abraham would father the Jewish people. Jesus gave Simon a new name. Simon Peter became the rock upon whom Jesus built his church. Later, when Saul vengefully persecuted Jesus’ followers, Jesus stepped in and renamed him. Paul became one of Christianity’s greatest teachers.

God uses your name and mine with the same expectation God felt regarding our biblical counterparts. In every opportunity which comes our way, God calls our names with great love and with great hope in our responses.

Speak, Dearest God, for we listen as you call our names.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved