Jesus’ Mountain

When he saw the crowds, he went up on the mountainside.
After he sat down, the disciples gathered around him…

Matthew 5:1

The Mount of the Beatitudes is another favorite place to which I returned this year. Though I cannot mark off the specific parcel on which the people gathered to hear Jesus, the geography of the mountainside indicates that we were in the vicinity. The view from my bus window revealed the beauty of this much-referenced site. As we neared our drop-off point, I wondered if those who gathered there were prepared for Jesus’ radically simple and love-filled lessons in living.

While Matthew placed Jesus on a mountainside for this discourse, Luke described the site as level land. A close look clears up this discrepancy as there are numerous level places on the hillsides of Galilee. Jesus could have delivered his sermon from any one of them. None of this matters as it is the essence of Jesus’ teaching that day which turned his world upside-down. Matthew’s indication that Jesus sat before he began is an important observation. Those who taught in the temple always sat before offering their lessons. Jesus made a point when he followed suit. Jesus, too, was teaching with authority.

What a life-giving experience it must have been to hear Jesus ask the people to live in a way in which he was willing to live himself. There were no double standards for the mighty and the poor. Jesus asked the same of them all. Those who heard Jesus that day listened because Jesus’ actions always spoke louder than his words.

Loving God, thank you for sending an authentic representative to share your loving ways with us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Plant Those Seeds

Love kindness and walk humbly with God.
From Micah 6:8

I smile. When I pass anyone anywhere, I smile. The truth is that I smile at most of creation when I take the opportunity to enjoy it. So it is that I smile even when I’m outdoors walking alone. Neither drizzle nor cloudy skies dampen my fascination with the beauty around me.

This is the reason I was taken aback by the students in the school to which I was assigned some years ago. My office was located at one end of the building while the school office and the children I worked with were located at the other. As a result, I walked the length of the building several times every day. In the process, I passed numerous students. What concerned me was the lack of smiles, or any acknowledgement for that matter, along the way. When I offered a “good morning” as I passed them, students registered genuine surprise. It took many of them days or weeks to respond in kind. Several weeks into that school year, a colleague asked me why the students I passed in the hallway always greeted me. I told her that they were simply returning the favor.

You know, if we truly desire peace in this world of ours, we need to plant the seeds of that peace wherever we find ourselves. A few small seedlings will grow into a flowerbed and then a garden one day. To get there, though, we must first plant the seeds.

Loving God, inspire us to imitate your creative ways in our efforts to bring peace to others. Though we are small in the grand scheme of things, we really can plant seeds of greatness.

©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

That Peaceful Mountain?

When he saw the crowds, he went up on the mountainside.
After he sat down, the disciples gathered around him…

Matthew 5:1

Even from afar, the Mount of the Beatitudes exudes beauty. This deceptively peaceful setting is also known as Mount Eremos. Its name is derived from Greek and means “solitary or uninhabited”. I laugh as I type this fact as the opposite must have been true of this place the day Jesus offered these radical lessons in living.

While Matthew placed Jesus on a mountainside for this discourse, Luke described the site as a level place. A close look clears up this discrepancy as there are numerous level places on the hillsides of Galilee. Jesus could have delivered his sermon from any one of them. More important is the value of Jesus’ teaching that day. Matthew’s indication that Jesus sat before he began mustn’t be overlooked. Those who taught in the temple always sat before offering their lessons. Jesus made a point when he followed suit. Once again, it was quite clear that Jesus taught with authority.

As for me, I’ve found myself weary of the empty words of an assortment “authority figures” throughout my life. What a life-giving experience it was when my parents and a favorite teacher and a respected public figure and my priest asked no more of me than they asked of themselves! This is precisely the experience of those who heard Jesus that day. This was their experience every time Jesus opened his mouth because Jesus’ actions always spoke louder than his words.

Loving God, thank you for sending an authentic representative to share your loving ways with us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Best Teacher

Jesus saw a vast crowd. He pitied them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them at great length.

Mark 6:34

My favorite image of Jesus is “Jesus the Teacher”. He saw the need in each face before him and likely could not help responding. Jesus used lesson after lesson and story and after story to make his point. Of course, Jesus followed every lesson with tangible examples of his meaning through his own behavior. Powerful as Jesus’ words were, his actions were even more so.

I shared recently that I was going to try not to judge others or myself in New Year 2017. This past week has revealed to me just how critical I can be, especially when I am unhappy with myself or my circumstances. Though I’ve avoided “speaking” my sentiments, I’ve felt them just the same. It seems to me that, if I wish to succeed, I need to attend to Jesus the Teacher. When I pay attention, I find that I’m most deeply taken with Jesus’ focus. He didn’t invest his time in worrying about himself. Rather, Jesus focused upon those around him. We find the truest representation of our endearing, loving, merciful, welcoming and forgiving Lord in his encounters with others. This is also where I will find my best self: in my concern for others.

Loving God, thank you for revealing yourself to us through Jesus. His selfless ways offer us the best lessons of all. Help us to take Jesus’ ways to heart.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Teaching Moments

“For they preach, but they do not practice.”
From Matthew 23:3

My mom had serious issues with double standards. After hearing a newscaster’s remark or reading an article in the newspaper, she often responded, “Do as I say, and not as I do!” She sometimes said the same regarding situations at work. Apparently, my mom’s supervisor didn’t always exhibit the behavior he expected from his employees. My mom tried to be fair in her interactions and she did not appreciate those who didn’t do the same. Perhaps this is the reason my mom did most of her teaching by example. Though I remember some of her pet sayings, I recall the things she did far more vividly.

I try to keep my mother’s example in mind in my own interactions and relationships. There is nothing worse than betraying the trust of those who depend upon us and those who love us. Though I cannot promise to be perfect, I can promise to do my best. This is the reason I will offer a special prayer today for all of those upon whom we depend and for those who depend upon me. Whether at home, school, in the neighborhood, on our job-sights or at our places of worship, we all need the company of people whose actions speak even more clearly than their words.

Dear God, help us always to practice what we preach as best we can.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved