Look Beyond The Fog…

While spending the day with our grandsons, three-year-old Danny and I engaged in a discussion regarding fog. Danny lives a bit closer to Lake Michigan than Grandpa and I do. So it is that he awakes to foggy mornings more often than we. That morning, I’d remarked to Danny that, though we had no fog at all in Gurnee, his neighborhood was covered with it. Danny, who is intrigued by new information of every sort, shared with me what his teacher had taught him a few days earlier: “You need water to have fog. We live by Lake Michigan, so we get to have fog.” Though I was tempted to add that a collision of warm air and cold air also has something to do with fog’s formation, I thought better of it. Danny’s observation that “we get to have fog” was far more important than any explanation of meteorological processes which I might have offered. Ever since, I’ve been mulling over the possibility that I haven’t viewed the fog in my life with Danny’s appreciative anticipation.

Today, John’s gospel (11:1-45) describes the fog which engulfed Jesus’ relationship with some dear friends. Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus loved Jesus very much. They listened carefully to his every word. They internalized Jesus’ teaching and took all that he said to heart. This is the reason Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus when they realized the seriousness of their brother’s illness. There was nothing more they could do than to place the ailing Lazarus in Jesus’ care. By the time Jesus arrived, however, Lazarus had died. When she saw Jesus approach, Martha ran from her home to meet him. She told Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus replied with talk of the resurrection on the last day and, though Martha acknowledged this, she seemed to be asking for something more. A few minutes later, Mary also ran to Jesus. When she fell at his feet, Mary echoed her sister’s words: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary said nothing more. She’d stated the truth of the matter and that was that. Did Martha and Mary see possibilities lying beyond that fog?

Throughout my own painful stretches, I’ve tried to emulate Martha and Mary. I’ve echoed, “Lord, if you had been here, if you had been watching, if you were really paying attention, none of these things would have happened!” Unfortunately, my imitation of Martha and Mary has been lack-luster at best. Though I’ve enumerated my woes with their passion, I’ve failed to do so with their faith. Martha and Mary were good Jewish women who lived by the teachings of their faith. These sisters were also attentive followers of Jesus. They liked what Jesus had to say and they lived out his message in their daily lives as best they could. They trusted this one who had come to be known as a prophet, healer and miracle worker. More importantly, they loved this man of God who had demonstrated God’s mercy and unconditional love in ways they’d never experienced before. I noted above that Martha and Mary seemed to be asking for something for Lazarus beyond Jesus’ assurances regarding life after this life. Somehow, they knew Jesus could and would do more. As for me, I have an advantage over Martha and Mary. Though they walked with Jesus, looked into his eyes, heard his voice and felt his hand upon their shoulders, they didn’t know the outcome of Jesus’ work. Two thousand years and generations of believers later, I know that outcome, yet I become fearful. I know the outcome of Jesus’ work, yet I fail to anticipate what lies beyond the fog.

Perhaps this is what Danny met when he said, “We get to have fog.” Those blurry times, when seeing what lies ahead is difficult, aren’t a curse after all. They’re simply an opportunity to make our way through the fog because a clearer view always await us on the other side. So it is that I’ve changed my litany. Now I pray, “Lord, I know you love me. I know you watch over me with great care. You know my suffering and the suffering of those you’ve given me to love and you’re with us through it all.” When, I close with my “Amen”, the weight of the world lifts from my shoulders. Danny has taught me about the possibilities that come with each new day’s fog and with all of our worries. When we hand them over to God, we open ourselves to the clear skies which await us.

This is the Fifth Sunday of Lent. We’ll celebrate Easter in just two weeks. Until then, difficulties near and far will threaten to cloud our days. Whether fog engulfs our own homes, our workplaces, our neighborhoods or the other side of this world, let’s respond with Martha’s and Mary’s certainty. God will be with us through it all! Though Jesus’ suffering will be our focus on Palm Sunday and throughout Holy Week, let’s remember the acts of love and compassion which preceded that suffering. In all that he said and did, Jesus led those he touched through the fog of their suffering into the light of God’s love. These last days of Lent and always, God simply asks that we see the opportunities which lie beyond the fog around us and that we embrace the love we find there.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Forgives AND Forgets

Though I’ve shared my affection for the parables of Jesus many times before, today’s gospel compels me to do so once again. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is my favorite of Jesus’ stories because it fills me with great hope. Through his depiction of the prodigal son’s father, Jesus offered his best teaching regarding God’s mercy. Good teacher that Jesus is, he followed this beautiful lesson with a concrete, real life example of God’s mercy in action when he encountered a condemned woman…

In his gospel (John 8:1-11), John tells us that the temple elders dragged a woman caught in adultery before Jesus. After forcing her to the center of the crowd, the elders reminded Jesus that The Law required them to stone the woman to death for her transgression. As Jesus considered their remarks, he knelt to write on the ground. No one seemed to notice what Jesus scribbled as they pushed Jesus to respond. Finally, Jesus stood up and said, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Though we cannot be certain of what Jesus wrote, might his scrawls in the dirt have been reminders of the crowd’s own sins? Perhaps so, because one by one the angry mob dispersed. When Jesus and the woman were left alone, Jesus asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” The woman’s humiliation faded in Jesus’ kindness, and she responded, “No one, sir.” Jesus continued with the best news this woman would hear in her lifetime: “Neither do I condemn you.”

This poor woman knew The Law as well as the crowd who gathered to punish her. The hatred in their eyes made it quite clear that she was about to die. Never mind that the temple elders and the rest were all sinful in their own ways. When Jesus, who knows every sin and every sinner better than we know ourselves, refused to condemn her, this woman must have been overcome with relief, gratitude and utter amazement. This Jesus, who knew what she had done, also knew the potential for goodness which abided within her. Jesus bade the woman farewell only after he acknowledged just how lovable she was in God’s eyes. Jesus bade the woman farewell only after he challenged her to acknowledge God’s love in the new life she would begin as a result of this encounter. This was the first day of the best of this woman’s life.

One of the most uncomfortable aspects of my humanity is that I understand the concept of sin a bit too well. Though I know better, I hold onto guilt for offenses from childhood and from the lowest points in my life which I should have let go long ago. Though I’ve repented and made amends as best I can, I allow the guilt to remain. Now my affection for the stories and kindnesses Jesus repeatedly offered tell me that this burden is unnecessary. Still, my heart bears the load just the same. Fortunately for me, reminders of God’s mercy are plentiful. Today’s first reading from Isaiah (43:16-21) and the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians (3:8-14) underscore Jesus’ message to the woman in the gospel and to each one of us. Isaiah and Paul tell us to “remember not the things of the past” and to “continue my pursuit in hope.” In the name of God who created all that is good, including you and me, Jesus insists that the once-condemned woman and we are to move beyond our past sinfulness. While we are responsible for our actions, we are also responsible to accept God’s forgiveness for them and to do our best to make things right. Afterward, we must forget these transgressions and move on. Though we can’t be certain of how the woman caught in adultery dealt with her challenge, you and I can see to it that we respond by living as God’s beloved and forgiven children.

The parables of Jesus have taught me that had you or I been the intended target of the elders’ stones, Jesus would have responded just as he did to the condemned woman. There is no escaping it. Jesus demonstrates God’s intense love for us and God’s faith in us through both his stories and his interactions with his sinful followers. When I find that I’m at odds with myself, I must remember how fortunate I am to have the attention of the God who parents the prodigal child in each one of us. So it is that God calls you and me to recognize that today’s scriptures aren’t dated testimonials meant for other people in another time. Today’s message is a timeless bit of good news for our sometimes weary and always forgiven souls.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved