Salt and Light for the World

After I read today’s scripture passages, I quickly turned to the journal I kept during our recent trip to the Holy Land. Jesus’ insistence that his disciples were the salt of the earth and the light of the world elicited fond memories of our Israeli guide. As I read through my notes, I pictured Yossi who insisted upon many things throughout our stay. Beside the standard directives, Yossi insisted that we pray. He insisted that we must pray for peace among the Israeli people because we can pray and he cannot. Yossi was raised in a communist kibbutz where God was never mentioned. So it was, Yossi insisted, that he never learned to pray. Later, Yossi observed that many of his countrymen and woman who do acknowledge God in their lives focus upon a vindictive and punishing God. Yossi insisted that this deity must be replaced by the compassionate and merciful God of Jesus. This seemed to be a surprising assessment from a self-proclaimed non-believer. This comment offered one of many indications that Yossi might not be the secular Israeli he claimed to be.

Throughout our stay, Yossi introduced us to many Jewish, Muslim and Christian acquaintances who exhibited a similar desire for unity. We found that Israelis who practice no faith at all desire unity within their nation as well. Yossi insisted repeatedly that Jesus’ influence is needed to achieve peace among his people. With that end in mind, Yossi reiterated his request that that we pray in full earnest for his country and its neighbors. Every time Yossi did this, I marveled at his faith in our tiny band of travelers. This is the reason Yossi came to mind when I read today’s gospel. Through all of his insistence, Yossi echoed Jesus’ sentiments regarding our value in the grand scheme of things. Apparently, Yossi saw us as the salt of the earth and the light of the world just as Jesus saw his followers.

It was when we neared the Mount of the Beatitudes that Yossi read from Chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel. He began at the beginning by listing the Beatitudes before going on to today’s verses regarding salt and light. Yossi reminded us that salt was an extremely valuable commodity in Jesus’ day. Soldiers were often paid their wages in salt. Salt was the only means to preserve food at the time and it was a popular means to flavor food. Salt was even used to seal dirt roofs to protect them from the rain. Light was another matter. Though the sun could be scorching by day, its reflection in the night moon provided perfect light for traveling from place to place in desert conditions. The tiny oil lamps used in Jesus’ day assaulted the darkness with their small, but mighty glow. Yes, salt and light were extremely valuable and important commodities in the lives of Jesus’ contemporaries. Jesus knew exactly what he was saying when he called his disciples the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 5:13-15) tells us that when Jesus spoke to the crowds on the mount that day, he offered these promises, “Blest are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blest are those who mourn, for they will be comforted; blest are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…” Jesus listed eight conditions which the world viewed as suffering and then he insisted that the best of God’s blessings would be given in response to each one. After offering these guarantees for happiness to the crowds, Jesus turned to his disciples to insist further, “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world.” Jesus challenged his closest friends to be the salt which would enrich those around them and the light which would guide those who couldn’t yet see the path which led to God. Jesus left no uncertainty regarding how this would be accomplished. Once again, Jesus used his most insistent voice to say, “…your light must shine before others.” Jesus knew that when the people experienced the salt and light which his disciples offered, they would take God’s offer of peace, mercy and compassion to heart.

I admit that I found Yossi’s ongoing insistence that we pray and that we share our God to be quite a challenge. Though I’d prayed seemingly forever, I had left my own country in turmoil and I didn’t expect things to be much better upon my return. The disciples’ trepidation filled me up every time Yossi insisted upon our help. How could any of us be the salt and the light which the Holy Land needs, which our own country needs, which those suffering far more than we so desperately need? Still, Yossi persisted just as Jesus did. In the end, Jesus reassured his followers with his insistence and his faith in them as he sent them on their way. Yossi reassured me and my fellow travelers by insisting, “You can do it!” God reassures each one of us with the same. Whenever we are salt or light, God sends us out with the hopeful insistence that we will transform our world one loving deed at a time.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

D… Depth

Jesus said to them,
“Come after me and I will make you fishers of God’s people.”

Mark 1:17

D is for Depth. I wonder if Jesus appreciated the irony when he called Simon and Andrew to follow him. They were already experts regarding what lay beneath the surface. After all, they were successful fishermen. Still, Jesus asked them to cast their nets into much deeper waters. Jesus asked them to set their sights upon fellow souls…

It seems to me that I deal best with the challenges before me when I look beneath the surface. Most things aren’t as they seem. Just as Simon and Andrew made a science of studying the waters to determine where best to cast their nets, I must study the circumstances and people around me before casting a word or deed in their direction.

Depth… Of all of life’s gifts, I think I appreciate most the understanding of another soul. What a gift it is when someone delves beneath the surface to discover what actually makes me tick! What a gift it is when I care enough to allow another to share the depths of his or her spirit with me!

Dear God, you reside within the depths of each one of us. Teach us to cast our nets with care as we seek to find you within one another.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gratefully Drawn In

They immediately abandoned their nets
and became his followers.

Mark 1:18

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you know that God’s story drew me in when I was very young, probably before I entered kindergarten. It seems reasonable to attribute this phenomenon to my parents who took their faith to heart. Though money was tight in our house, my mom purchased a family bible series which arrived in monthly installments. Each edition included a book from the bible with colorful artwork which brought its stories to life. I recall pouring over the pages with my younger sisters. Years later, when my teachers referenced the scriptures during religion class, images from that bible resurfaced, bringing their lessons to life once again.

If I could be so taken by these stories which chronicle God’s interactions with humankind, it’s no wonder that so many who met Jesus face to face were immediately drawn to him. Consider the disciples who walked away from their businesses to follow Jesus. What was it that drew them in? Simon and Andrew were strong, burly, hard-working men. Still, they left their livelihoods to follow Jesus. Martha and Mary opened their home and hearts to Jesus. Mary Magdalene’s devotion to him was immediate and complete. Was simply being nearby enough to draw people to Jesus?

Though I’ve learned a good deal about Jesus, what strikes me most is his acceptance of everyone who came his way. I also appreciate his talk about forgiveness and God’s unconditional love. When I consider this Jesus whom I’ve come to know, I understand the disciples attraction to him.

Good and Generous God, thank you for the gift of yourself and for the gift of Jesus. You have transformed my life from the moment I first heard your name.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank You, Jesus!

Once Jesus… asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”…
Then he said to them, “Who do you say that I am?”

From Luke 9:18-20

Like you, I’ve worn many hats throughout my life: Child, sibling, cousin, student, friend, adversary, teen, aunt, teacher, spouse, in-law, parent, colleague, author, grandma, administrator, volunteer, retiree, encourage-er, listener, annoying one. The list goes on and on. Some who know me might encourage me to add a few more complimentary titles. Others might encourage me to add a role or an adjective of which I’m not particularly proud. I’m painfully honest when I also say that, in spite of this list, I sometimes don’t know who I am at all.

It’s during this life’s most confusing and difficult times that I jump at the chance to answer the question Jesus posed to his followers so long ago: “Who do you say that I am?” This answer has made all of the difference in the world to me. You see, Jesus is the one who convinced me of God’s love for me. It is Jesus who taught me to love my enemies as well as my friends. Jesus is the one who told story after story to convince me that I can never do anything which God will not forgive. Jesus is the one who assured me that, miserable as I am, he would lay down his life for me alone. It is through the life and lessons of Jesus that I’ve learned to live as best I can, not in spite of, but because of who I am.

It is Jesus who answers whenever I ask, “Who am I?” It is Jesus who assures me, “You are God’s beloved!”

Generous God, you have gifted us with Jesus -his words, his works, his life and his love. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Pray… God Is Listening!

I’ve shared this often, I know… Throughout his time among us, Jesus offered countless revealing glimpses of our generously loving God. As amazing as each of these renderings is, my favorite is Jesus’ portrayal in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The image of that ever-patient and forgiving father who opened his arms to his terribly wayward child is something I’ve held dear all of my life. It is this image of God as my loving parent which encourages me to open my heart to God without reservation or fear. It is this image which encourages me to seek true intimacy in every utterance I send God’s way. I admit that this is a lifelong process which will likely continue well into my venture into the hereafter!

If you’ve been blessed with a close relationship, you understand the implications of intimacy. When we open our hearts to someone special, we hide nothing from him or her. We don’t allow pretenses or formalities or social norms to get in the way of the reality of who we are. When we share ourselves at this level, we put every flaw and every virtue in full view. When God is our partner in such a relationship, even the things we don’t know about ourselves are known to God. Far too frequently, I face the reality that I’m not perfect. When this occurs, I remind myself that God has been well aware of my glaring flaws all along. I know that, in spite of the pettiness or grandeur of my imperfections, God looks upon me with persistent and consistent love. Because God loves me and all of us so completely, I find the courage to approach God with the confidence Abraham exhibited in today’s passage from Genesis (18:20-32).

Did you notice that each time Abraham spoke he found God to be both approachable and compassionate? The author of Genesis carefully portrayed this encounter as a conversation during which God and Abraham walked side-by-side. In spite of being very much aware that he was in God’s presence, Abraham bargained with his Maker. He pleaded for the lives of the innocent inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. God’s apparent anger was in response to the outcries of many righteous people regarding the evil that festered in the two cities. Still, God listened to Abraham. Initially, Abraham asked that the cities be spared if there were just fifty innocent inhabitants. Then, Abraham begged God to preserve forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty or even ten innocent lives. Each time, God responded sympathetically. The chapter which follows tells us that God answered Abraham’s plea as the lives of the innocents in those otherwise wretched cities were spared. At the same time, we must remember that God also knew the hearts of the evildoers in Sodom and Gomorrah better than they knew themselves. God knew the reasons they did what they did and God loved them as well. I write this with great confidence because Jesus assured us that God’s mercy is never lost on anyone!

In today’s gospel (Luke 11:1-13), Luke shares another occasion on which Jesus revealed to his disciples the God with whom Abraham was so familiar. Jesus had just finished praying himself when his followers asked him to teach them to pray. Jesus responded with this advice: “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” Afterward, Jesus went on to make this instruction regarding prayer perfectly clear. In the event that the disciples had forgotten the persistence of Abraham and God’s generous response to him, Jesus reminded them in no uncertain terms. Jesus spoke of a man who responded to his neighbor’s need in the middle of the night, not so much out of love as out of weariness at the neighbor’s persistence. Jesus added, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Jesus went on to point out the disciples’ concern for their own children: “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” I assure you that the God of Abraham continues to listen and to provide us all that we need as we journey through this life!

As I wrote today, it occurred to me that I’ve found a second image of God which I must treasure at least as much as that of the father who embraced his prodigal son. In today’s passage from Genesis, the author illustrated the possibilities when we open ourselves to God’s embrace just as that regretful son did. In this account, God and Abraham walk side-by-side. There is no question that Abraham is conversing with God as he would with a dear friend. Apparently, Abraham found this to be perfectly natural. It seems to me that God’s close proximity to Abraham was no accident. God’s close proximity to you and me is no accident either. Though that prodigal son was separated from his father for a while, we are never separated from God. God walks side-by-side with each one of us every step of the way. In our goodness and in our wrong-doing, God is with us. In our joy and in our sorrow, God is with us. So it is that we must take Jesus’ lesson regarding prayer to heart. We must ask and seek and knock because, even today, the God of Abraham listens and responds… Always!

©2019 Mary Penich-All Rights Reserved

My Little Faith

Jesus said to them,
“Why are you terrified,
O you of little faith?”

Matthew 8:24

I admit it. I become terrified, too.

When I was a little girl, I envied the disciples. I was convinced that if I’d had the opportunity to walk with Jesus every day, I would have made much better use of the time than Jesus’ contemporaries did. I would have had no doubt that God could and would take care of everything I needed.

Well, it seems to me that I have asserted again and again in my writing that this is precisely the case. God has generously revealed Divine Love to me and for me throughout my life. I know that God loves us and cares for us. I know that God knows us better than we know ourselves and that God knows our every need. Though I believe that I truly know these things, when the chips are down, I sometimes join the disciples in being terrified.

The good news in all of this is that, in spite of their shaky faith, the disciples never forgot where to turn. They always cried out to Jesus when they were in trouble. I’m happy to say that in spite of my sometimes shaky faith, I also never forget where to turn -and neither should you. Though we cannot see God as tangibly as the disciples saw Jesus, God is always with us!

Loving God, I know I’m repeating myself here, but thank you for listening and for remaining with me in everything!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved