Like Us…

As he walked along the Sea of Galilee he watched two brothers,
Simon and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea. They were fishermen.

Matthew 4:18

Today is Friday. Tonight, my husband and I will enjoy a fish fry at our parish church. We’ll join our fellow parishioners and friends for this Lenten ritual.

While in Israel, we ate a lot of fish. Like Jesus and his disciples, we took advantage of the well-stocked Sea of Galilee. I enjoyed my favorite meal in a restaurant on the shore of Galilee which specializes in preparing St. Peter’s Fish also known as tilapia. We were offered the opportunity to enjoy this local delicacy, just as Jesus’ contemporaries did, with head and scales intact. I admit that the authenticity of that offer didn’t tempt me a bit. I happily ordered a scaled filet without the head!

While we waited for our food, I enjoyed the circus around us. The restaurant was filled to the gills. Pardon my pun! Still, guests and wait-staff alike were in good spirits. A gentle breeze off the sea carried me back two millenniums to Jesus and his friends who likely enjoyed several meals on this very shore. Perhaps these were the few times when they felt truly carefree as they enjoyed one another’s company. I don’t often think of Jesus in “care-free mode” and I found this mental image of him to be quite inspiring.

You know, Jesus-the-Miracle-Worker is also Jesus-the-Human Being. When I remember that Jesus experienced everything just as you and I do, I find myself far more appreciative of all that he did for us.

Dear Jesus, thank you for being just like we are.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


I’m Here…

Caiaphas said to them, “You know nothing,
nor do you consider that it is better for you
that one man should die instead of the people,
so that the whole nation may not perish.”

John 11:49-50

Of all of the places I visited in Israel, I found Jerusalem to be the most unsettling. Its present-day inhabitants seemed more hurried and focused on the moment at hand than their counterparts in less populated areas. I imagined that Jesus’ visits to Jerusalem were more taxing than the time spent in other places as well. As Palm Sunday approaches, images from the Holy Land and the first Holy Week swirl about in my mind. I wasn’t in Jerusalem two thousand years ago and I don’t know what my response to Jesus would have been if I’d been there. I am here now and I can only be certain of my response to Jesus today. Still, I’ll turn back time and imagine myself in Jesus’ company long ago…

While Jesus and the disciples prepared to enter Jerusalem, Caiaphas unfolded his plan. He was determined to see to the demise of Jesus-The Trouble-Maker who interfered with the high priest’s hold on the people. Poor Caiaphas had missed everything of importance that Jesus said regarding God’s mercy and inclusiveness and unconditional love. Poor Caiaphas was blinded and deafened by his desire to maintain his stature and his power. Caiaphas missed Jesus’ assertion that each one of us, including Caiaphas, is worth anything and everything Jesus would endure in coming week.

As for me, I’ve decided to turn the tables on Jesus as well. Rather than waiting for him to find me, I will find Jesus in his hour of need.

Merciful God, though I wasn’t present to make the choice to be with Jesus that first Holy Week, I’m here today.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Encouraged!

The seeds on good ground are those who
hear the word in a spirit of openness,
retain it, and bear fruit through perseverance.

Luke 8:15

I’m coming to the end of my journal of our trip to Israel. I admit to struggling a bit regarding what to share next. To clear my head, I decided to engage in a mindless errand. I left my cluttered desk and grabbed my car-wash coupon. My car was a mess. Though I habitually keep the interior free of clutter, the exterior hasn’t been washed for over a month. While treating my vehicle to a serious cleaning, I treated myself to a few moments of inspiration.

The waiting area at the car wash was empty so I settled into the chair of my choice. I picked one which allowed by back to face the window. While I waited, I felt the sun’s warmth on my shoulders. I thoroughly enjoyed this much-needed hug. “You are so good, Dear God!” I said to myself. “You offer consolation everywhere, even in a car-wash!”

As I basked in the sunshine, my thoughts returned to Israel and the many unexpected encounters with Jesus which occurred there. Though I realized I was in The Holy Land, I didn’t expect that “holiness” to be tangible. Yet, it was. At every turn, I caught glimpses of Jesus’ life and that of his closest friends. Since childhood, I’ve tried to imagine the realities of Jesus’ time among us. My encounter with Jesus’ homeland brought that reality into focus.

With that, I retrieved my car and headed home to write.

Persistent God, thank you for your encouragement which finds us wherever we are.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Only A While Longer?

“My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.”
John 13:33

While we were in Israel, I overheard two travelers from another group consoling one another over a friend who was unable to join them for their trip. The person who couldn’t travel with them had been ill and didn’t recover as quickly as they’d hoped. Because these three considered this trip to Israel to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, this turn of events anguished them all. The two who had made it consoled own another with their promise to pray at every holy place they visited for the person they’d unwillingly left behind. Their tone indicated that this illness might be their fellow traveler’s last.

As Holy Week approaches, I imagine conversations regarding Jesus’ situation among his friends. I suppose none of them were anxious to return to Jerusalem with so much uncertainty regarding Jesus’ work. Where would Jesus’ teaching take him? Where would it take them? Was Judas already expressing concern regarding all of this? Were the others happy to follow their teacher or were they struggling with worry as well?

Those fellow travelers found consolation in praying for their sick friend. She would be with them in spirit as they expressed their concern for her to God. The poor disciples weren’t as adept as we are at prayer. Though they had Jesus in their midst, they weren’t certain of what to make of his presence in their lives. Though they’d witnessed so much, they’re weren’t privy to The Big Picture which inspires us along the way.

Loving God, help me to be patient with others and with myself when we puzzle over this life. Help us to remember that you are with us though it all.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Joseph, The Worker

Instead, because of a warning he received in a dream,
Joseph took them to the region of Galilee.
There he settled in a town called Nazareth.

From Matthew 2:22-23

On this Feast of St. Joseph, my thoughts return to one of two references made to Joseph during our visit to Israel. While in Nazareth, we viewed Mary’s home and another dwelling carved into stone. Our guide remarked that the people lived in stone homes. Even shelves and seating areas inside where hewn from rock. “If you look around,” Yossi observed, “there aren’t many trees here. No one could have made a living as a carpenter.” Archaeologists and historians agree that Joseph was more likely a stonemason and a versatile handyman of sorts who could handle a variety of tasks. He agreed that Jesus likely followed in Joseph’s footsteps which would make him a very-much-in-demand artisan as well. “This was very respectable work,” Yossi added.

In the midst of this commentary, I imagined Joseph looking more like the Israeli soldiers I’d seen rather than the sedate statuary which adorns many churches. There is nothing easy about carving into stone and Joseph certainly built strong muscles in the process. There was nothing easy about Joseph’s lot in life. When Mary agreed to be the mother of Jesus, she pulled Joseph into impossible circumstances. Her out-of-wedlock pregnancy could have caused Mary to be stoned to death. To protect her, Joseph intended to divorce Mary quietly until an angel explained the circumstances. So it was that Joseph took Mary into his home as his wife. They were barely settled when a census forced them to travel to Bethlehem. After Jesus was born there, Joseph packed up his family to flee to Egypt. To avoid further danger, Joseph finally settled his family in Nazareth where Jesus grew into manhood.

We celebrate the Good Saint Joseph because he gave up everything to provide for Mary and Jesus.

Dear God, give us the courage to emulate Joseph’s generosity and selflessness as we care for those we have been given to love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Alive Again!

Though I’m echoing sentiments I’ve already shared regarding my visits to Israel, they merit repeating. During our first trip, I quickly discovered that the precise locations of the events of Jesus’ life didn’t concern me. Breathing the air Jesus breathed and walking in the places where Jesus walked were quite enough for me. Being among people who resembled Jesus, his family, his neighbors and his disciples touched me deeply. During last year’s trip, I became attuned to what Jesus’ life may actually have been like. This year, a picture of Jesus of Nazareth formed within me. With every passing day, I felt I’d come to know Jesus more intimately than I ever had before. We were on the Sea of Galilee when I began to fully appreciate this remarkable phenomenon.

Last year, our guide Yossi had made special arrangements for this voyage. He’d insisted that we sail on Daniel’s boat. This year, though Daniel had taken the day off, he ventured out to offer us the tour we were promised. How relieved I was when I saw Daniel at the helm! After we made our way out onto the water, I settled in as Jesus might have two millenniums ago while Daniel shared his music and his story. The now-familiar tale of this remarkable man served as the backdrop to my own musing regarding the time Jesus spent on the shores of this historic body of water…

Daniel is a Messianic Jew who believes that there is no more waiting for the messiah. Daniel was born to a young unmarried Orthodox Jewish woman who gave her son up for adoption to a secular Jewish family. Though his family had no faith to share, they provided Daniel with a loving home in the port city of Haifa. This proximity to the 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 by gifting him with a set of drums early on. Unfortunately, Daniel endured a personal crisis as a young man. This death of sorts urged Daniel onto a quest deep within himself. Because his family hadn’t kept his adoption secret, Daniel continued his journey by finding his birth family: his mother and four siblings. After meeting them, Daniel relocated nearby. He stayed in a Kibbutz and found a job on a tour boat.

I recalled our tour guide Yossi’s experience growing up in a Kibbutz. There was no talk of God there. I assumed that Daniel’s newfound family were Orthodox Jews as his birth mother had been, so there would be no talk of Jesus with them. Also, offering tours of “holy” places is big business and certainly not a religious experience for local Jews and Palestinians. What was it then that prompted Daniel to take that extreme step toward Jesus? Apparently, 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. Yeshua had become Daniel’s most precious and life-giving treasure.

Daniel responds to Jesus’ presence in his life by sharing his music and his story during tours. My second encounter with Daniel transformed Jesus to the Yeshua of long ago. Daniel, Yossi and the Israelis I passed in the marketplaces, our hotels and at the sites we visited aren’t very different from the people who inhabited these places with Jesus. Daniel is ostracized by well-intentioned Jews who feel he has forsaken his faith. Yossi puzzles over local politics just as Jesus’ followers and his enemies did. Today’s Israeli’s struggle, just as people always have, to care for their families, to live peacefully and to at least taste the freedom to follow their hearts’ desires.

I share all of this because Jesus seems to have done for Daniel what he did for Lazarus two thousand years ago. Today, John’s gospel (John 11:1-45) tells us that Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus had taken ill and died. When Jesus went to Lazarus’ sisters to comfort them, Martha and Mary insisted that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had been with him. Do you know how many times I’ve looked upward to declare, “If you were here, things would be different!” Raising Lazarus was among Jesus’ greatest miracles. Daniel insists that this miracle was repeated in him when he welcomed Jesus into his life. I know that this miracle has been repeated within me every time I’ve survived one of the major and minor tragedies of my life. Jesus brings each of us back to life over and over again. The best part of all of this is that we can imitate Jesus’ miracle. Like Jesus, we can renew the lives of those we meet along the way as only we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved