One Loving Step at a Time

Once Herod Realized that he had been deceived by the astrologers,
he ordered the massacre of all the boys two years old and under in Bethlehem…

From Matthew 2:16

During this second visit to Israel, I found myself amazed a second time by the wonders I encountered. Our first stop was in Caesarea where the once ominous and quite brilliant Kind Herod had constructed a theater, aqueduct and hippodrome to flank his palace there. I shivered as I wondered why such a gifted man would be threatened by an infant. Surely, no child born into poverty could actually have taken his throne. Still, when the Magi failed to return to him to report the location of this alleged newborn king, Herod saw to the slaughter of every male child of Jesus’ age.

Not far from Herod’s palace, our guide pointed out a stone tablet which was discovered near the amphitheater Herod had built. On the tablet is inscribed the name Pontius Pilate. I shivered once again as our guide shared that this artifact proves the existence of Pontius Pilate in the Caesarea of Jesus’ day. It was Pilate’s unwillingness to hold his ground regarding Jesus’ innocence which led to Jesus’ crucifixion. Again, I wondered why? Pilate could have been the hero…

As I walked back to our bus, Jesus’ life unfolded before me. One man’s insecurities and another’s lack of nerve had literally made all of the difference in Jesus’ world. So did Jesus. I couldn’t judge Herod or Pilate because I’ve never walked in their shoes. I did, however, look down at my own dusty Reebok’s which were serving me well at the time. “You do walk in these shoes,” I told myself. Then, I went on to ask, “What difference are you making in your world?”

Patient God, every moment brings an opportunity to do good. Be with me as I try to put my best foot forward every step of the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Authentic in Word and Deed

When you read this, my dear husband and I will have returned from an unexpected second trip to Israel. I write “unexpected” because Mike and I were completely surprised by this opportunity. As it happened, our tour director’s able assistant was unable to accompany her on this year’s trek. As a result, Nancy asked Mike if he would consider coming along to help her to manage the group. My husband-the-traveler immediately responded in the affirmative. It was only after a minute or two that he qualified his response by adding that he should probably check with me before committing. Though I had been habitually reluctant to embark upon flights of serious length, last year’s adventure cured me. The people and places we encountered in Israel touched me deeply. This inspiration diminished any discomfort I’d felt while in air. I told Mike that he absolutely should make the trip and that I would do so as well.

One of the treasures I looked forward to seeing once again was our on-site tour guide. Yossi’s wealth of information, his passion for his work and his passion for life enhanced his commentary throughout. Though it took the entire duration of the tour to get to know Yossi with some depth, our effort was richly rewarded. Yossi didn’t always have access to his country’s treasures. He was raised in a Kibbutz and, as Yossi described it, “God was ripped from my heart as a young child.” Within that socialist environment, everyone worked to supply the community with what was needed and that was all that mattered. Yossi celebrated the day his family was able to leave that place to fend for themselves with some autonomy. At the same time, Yossi remained community-minded. He is keenly aware of the plight of the Israeli people and their neighbors both friendly and otherwise. He acknowledged that, while political conditions indicated otherwise, most of the people who occupy Israel get along with one another. Yossi also considers himself to be a secular Jew. Still, Yossi told us often, “You must pray for the people of Israel; for peace here.” I found this to be a curious request in light of his “secular” status. Yossi seemed to read my thoughts as he added, “You must do this. I don’t know how to pray, but you do.” While watching Yossi interact with those around him, I discovered that nothing was farther from the truth.

Yossi carried his backpack everywhere. Among the items he needed for the day, Yossi included musical instruments: his flute and a tiny guitar-like instrument, perhaps a balalaika. At our first stop in Caesarea, we visited the complex constructed by King Herod more than two thousand years ago. It includes a hippodrome, the ideal setting for the first of many concerts with which Yossi gifted us. Whenever the Spirit moved him, Yossi played. He offered his most precious concert in the Crusader church at Emmaus when he played Schubert’s Ave Maria. Yossi played with his eyes tightly closed as his music drifted heavenward. Yes, Yossi prays.

As I read today’s gospel (Mark 1:21-28), I considered what it was that caused Jesus’ contemporaries to take notice of his teaching. Unlike the scribes who lectured in the synagogue week after week, Mark tells us that Jesus offered “a new teaching with authority.” The implication, of course, is that perhaps the scribes weren’t as convincing in what they preached. The scriptures suggest that this was the case because the scribes’ words and actions were a mismatch. Mark tells us that, unlike them, Jesus spoke from the depths of his soul. There was no trepidation or uncertainty in his voice. Perhaps it was this certainty which allowed Jesus to cast out the demon who tormented that man in the crowd. Mark tells us that the demon was certainly convinced of Jesus’ authenticity because the demon addressed Jesus as “the Holy One of God.” Indeed, Jesus not only spoke of the Reign of God; he also made God’s presence in human history a reality through his compassionate responses to those he met along the way. In today’s vernacular, “Jesus talked the talk and he walked the walk.”

When Mike and I toured Israel with Yossi, Yossi didn’t merely share his observations. He illustrated his love for his homeland and for humankind in his every interaction. I determined that Yossi prays because he lives like a man who is attuned to God’s love and concern for us. This is the reason I took Yossi’s words to heart. My association with Yossi gave me a small taste of what those who followed Jesus experienced. In spite of their lowly stature, Jesus shared himself with them. The people took Jesus’ words to heart because he lived what he preached. Little did they know that Jesus truly was the Holy One of God. They had yet to discover that the life of this itinerant tradesman-turned-rabbi would change everything. For you and me, it’s different. We do know Jesus and all that he stands for. So it is that we do our best to live accordingly.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved