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

Fishers of People

He said to them, “Come after me and
I will make you fishers of men.”

Matthew 4:19

One of the most beautiful sites in Magdala is The Boat Chapel. This chapel features a large semicircular window behind the altar which allows those present to view the Sea of Galilee as they pray. Even more striking is the altar itself which is shaped like a boat. When I entered the chapel for the first time, the “boat” in the sanctuary took my breath away.

In Jesus’ day, the Sea of Galilee teemed with fish just as it does today. Magdala enjoyed an excellent economic standing as a result of the fishing industry which thrived there. One wonders why Peter and Andrew left their boats and their livelihoods to follow Jesus. One wonders what they were thinking when Jesus asked them to apply their fishing skills to gathering the rest of us into their company.

We know well that Peter and Andrew weren’t the only ones to leave their jobs to follow Jesus. Nor was Mary Magdalene alone in her admiration and support of this amazing man who’d called each one of them by name. This phenomenon has continued two millenniums since in spite of our often mediocre fishing skills. Just as Jesus placed his work in the hands of Peter, Mary and the others, he entrusts it to us.

It seems best to proceed as Jesus did, one loving interaction at a time, especially now…

Loving God, help me as I hone my fishing skills so I can cast your love everywhere toward everyone. Maybe I’ll catch a heart or two along the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Alive Again!

I hope this reference to our visit to the Holy Land eases each of us away from our current worries for a little while…

When we sailed on the Sea of Galilee, I couldn’t help smiling. I knew this adventure would be a high point of this trip. It was more than unlikely that we had followed the precise route Jesus had taken with his fishermen disciples when they sailed this sea. Still, the water beneath me, the sky above me and the hills in the distance were all part of the view Jesus enjoyed every time he ventured out onto Peter’s or another friend’s boat. Archaeologists tell us that the Israeli sailors who hosted us likely resemble Jesus and his contemporaries. Though their contemporary clothing suggested otherwise, their love for that boat, the water beneath them and the priceless view all around them ushered me back to Jesus’ day.

On this Fifth Sunday of Lent, we retell the story of Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus. Though Lazarus succumbed to serious illness and seemed lost to all who loved him, the scriptures tell us that Jesus changed everything for all concerned when he raised Lazarus from the dead. As I consider what Jesus did for Lazarus that day, I cannot miss the similarity between this event and what occurred with another of Jesus’ friends these two thousand years later. Though this would be my third voyage with Daniel Carmel, I knew I would never tire of sharing the story of how his newfound life with Jesus came about.

Daniel was born to a young unmarried Orthodox Jewish woman who gave him up for adoption. The secular Jewish family who made him their own had no faith to share with Daniel. However, they did have a lot of love and a happy home to share with their new son. Daniel and his family lived in the port city of Haifa. This proximity to water inspired Daniel’s love for the sea and his desire to become a boat captain one day. Daniel’s family also nurtured his love for music. They gifted him with a set of drums early on. Though Daniel enjoyed a nurturing upbringing, he endured a personal crisis while in his twenties. This death of sorts urged Daniel onto a quest deep within himself. Because his family hadn’t kept his adoption secret, Daniel continued his internal exploration by finding his birth family. Daniel found not only his mother, but also four siblings. With the hope of building relationships with them, Daniel relocated nearby. He stayed in a Kibbutz and found a job on a tour boat.

When I first heard this, I recalled our tour guide’s experience growing up in a Kibbutz. There was no talk of God there. I assumed Daniel’s newfound family were Orthodox Jews as his birth mother had been, so there would be no talk of Jesus with them. Offering tours of “holy” places is big business and certainly not a religious experience for local Jewish and Palestinian businessmen. I puzzled over what it was that prompted Daniel to take that extreme step toward Jesus. Amazingly enough, Daniel discovered Jesus’ tangible presence on the Sea of Galilee just as I had. For five years, he listened to his passengers talk about their belief in Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew) as they sailed. All the while, Daniel absorbed the prayers, the music and the scripture passages they shared. Every day, Daniel pondered all that he saw and heard. In the end, Daniel couldn’t help being moved. Something within Daniel came to life the day he realized that he also believed in Yeshua. Indeed, Yeshua had become Daniel’s most precious and life-giving treasure.

Daniel shares this treasure through his testimony and his music during boat tours and concerts in churches. Daniel sings the hymns which first inspired him. He has translated them into Hebrew for other Messianic Jewish believers to enjoy. Jesus’ passion for sharing God’s love is very much alive in Daniel. He expresses that passion in all he says and does in spite of being ostracized by many of his fellow Jews, secular and religious, who resent his belief in Jesus. As for me, Daniel’s music eases me into Jesus’ company every time I hear it.

It seems that Jesus has done for Daniel what he did for Lazarus so long ago. John’s gospel (John 11:1-45) tells us that, when Lazarus died, Jesus went to Lazarus’ sisters to comfort them. Martha and Mary responded by insisting that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had been with him. How many times I’ve looked upward and declared the same, “If you were here, things would be different!” Daniel Carmel insists that Jesus is with us, that his miracle was repeated in him and that it is repeated in you and me every time we survive one of the major and minor tragedies of this life. The best part of all of this is that we can imitate Jesus’ miracle in our own efforts to renew the lives of those we’ve been given to love. Today, this seems to be more important than ever!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All God’s Family

There were also women present looking on from a distance.
They were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger
and Joses, and Salome. These women had followed Jesus when he
was in Galilee and they attended to his needs.

Mark 15:40-41

It is evident to scripture scholars that both Peter and Mary Magdalene traveled with Jesus throughout his ministry. The groups traveled together, while Peter led the male cohort and Mary led the woman. The gospels are filled with references to the men, especially the twelve who were Jesus’ closest friends. There is little mention of Mary Magdalene and most of the other woman until Jesus’ crucifixion.

In Jesus’ day, women were of minimal value in the public sector. It is to Mary Magdalene’s credit that she managed her own affairs. Many women left as widows or who were alone and childless lived in dire poverty. In the Jewish community, the rare woman boasted political power. Spiritually, women were ostracized during their menstrual cycles and after childbirth. They regained their standing only after they were cleansed in the temple. Still, none of this kept Mary Magdalene and the other women from Jesus as he hanged on the cross. Though they were certainly not allowed to come to the foot of the cross, they were there.

Each one of us has suffered injustice, prejudice, ridicule and worse as a result of a quality over which we have little or no control. How often we have been devalued by others in spite of God’s propensity to call each one of us son or daughter. Just now, what a blessing it is that so many around the world have come together to fight COVID-19, to find the antidote that will save those who are ill and to develop the vaccine that will protect the rest of us. The gender or skin-color or age or ethnicity of the heroes who accomplish these things won’t matter. What they do on our behalf will matter more than ever!

Today, God invites us to recognize and to value the world-full of brothers and sisters God has given us to love.

Loving God, help me to see my human family as you do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Choose the Better Portion

Mary has chosen the better portion
and she shall not be deprived of it.

From Luke 10:41

This passage from Luke was written about another Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. It seems that Jesus visited the home these siblings shared because he considered them dear friends. Martha was very busy preparing the meal and everything else related to Jesus’ stay. Rather than helping Martha, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet as soon as he settled in to visit with their guests. Beside herself with worry, Martha pointed out this situation to Jesus. Much to Martha’s dismay, Jesus sided with her seemingly lazy sister. Apparently, Mary did the most important thing anyone could do when in Jesus’ company. She listened.

It seems to me that Mary Magdalene emulated both Martha’s and Mary’s roles in her relationship with Jesus. While she tended to Jesus’ need for food and shelter, she also tended to his company. This competent and strong woman who held her own in the worst of circumstances also loved with great resolve. I feel quite certain that she didn’t miss much of what Jesus said or did.

It occurs to me that, in the midst of life-with-COVID-19, I must try to be more like both Mary the sister of Lazarus and Mary Magdalene. While I respond to the requirements of each new day as is my norm, I must also take the time to sit at Jesus’ feet and to savor his every word like the Marys did. I did this very well while in Israel, though not so much since I returned home. When our battle with COVID-19 began, I became more rattled than usual. So it is that, every day, I begin again as I am today. There is plenty of time to do what I must and plenty of time to enjoy the love so generously sent my way.

Dear God, be with me as I do what I must for those I’ve been given to love and as I nestle closer to you.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mary’s Faith

Your faith has been your salvation.
Now go in peace.

From Luke 7:50

While walking through the ruins in Magdala, I saw a street which is flanked by the remains of shops of every sort. Archaeologists suggest that pottery, fresh produce and woven cloth were likely sold there. A few shops which sported small pools and a well likely sold fish caught locally. Another street was home to a row of houses, a small part of a neighborhood arranged in grid-like fashion much like our streets here at home. Closer to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, stand the remains of a warehouse and huge storage vessels. Magdala seems to have been home to a bustling economy. Many Greeks also lived in Magdala which made it a far more “worldly” setting than Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth.

As I considered Magdala in Jesus’ day, I imagined Mary Magdalene doing her best to maintain her stature in spite of the mysterious illness which plagued her. I also wondered if Mary maintained this facade when she first met Jesus or if she immediately revealed the pain that accompanied her wherever she went. Whichever the case, when Mary made her way to Jesus, her life changed forever.

It seems to me that the same is true for each one of us. Wherever we find God, we find healing and life anew.

Dear God, sometimes, I walk a straight path to you. Sometimes, I wander aimlessly as though I don’t know the way. Always, you stand waiting for me.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved