Reach Out As Jesus Did

I couldn’t help laughing. A fellow parishioner had just read my reflection which referenced our recent trip to Israel. Though this person was touched by what I’d written, he quickly asked, “But was it safe there?” After assuring him that the good deacon and I always felt secure in Jesus’ homeland, I shared our older son’s response to our first trip to Israel. When Mike and I announced our plans for that venture, our son turned to me with something between a grimace and a smile. He looked me in the eyes and declared, “Well, Mom, it’s been a good run.” Though I assured our firstborn that I’d never travel to an unsafe destination, I sensed that he was more than a little worried about his dad and me. The image of his half-hearted smile stayed with me until we returned home safely. Though we remained completely outside of harm’s way throughout our visits to the Holy Land, I do understand our son’s concerns beforehand. I wondered if Jesus’ mother shared our son’s worry when Jesus left home for the streets of Cana and Capernaum. The truth is that, in many ways, Jesus’ homeland hasn’t changed much since Jesus lived there.

Though Israel’s politics sometimes suggests otherwise, the variety of people who make up that nation’s diverse population interact on many levels every day. Our Jewish Israeli guide Yossi and our Palestinian bus driver worked very well together. Day after day, they join their fellow citizens in doing their best to secure peaceful and productive lives for themselves and for their families. Yossi observed often, “All they want is to work and provide a home and food and a life for their children. This is what we all want.” Yossi certainly supported this effort as he guided us to a Muslim monastery, an Italian Catholic mission, an Orthodox Jewish home, a tourist stop in Jericho, the West Bank, Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy places, Arab shops, Palestinian restaurants and so much more. Each of these encounters spoke to the people’s successful efforts to co-exist on the job, in their neighborhoods and as friends. How could my thoughts not turn to Jesus’ similar efforts in the midst of all of this?

On this third Sunday of Lent, the scriptures address all of our efforts to build community in our little corners of the world. The first reading (Exodus 17:3-7) tells us how Moses dealt with the grumbling Israelites who seemed to have forgotten that they’d been led from the grips of slavery and were on their way to the Promised Land. They complained incessantly throughout their journey. They went so far as to threaten Moses when they deemed the available drinking water too bitter to drink. Filled with disgust and fear, Moses pleaded with God for help. In spite of the people’s lack of faith, God provided the water they craved. In his letter to the Romans (5:1-2,5-8), Paul invited his readers to seize the blessings which their ancestors in the desert had overlooked. Those blessings flowed like water from Jesus and from themselves when they sustained one another. Above all, Paul insisted that God remained with them.

It is the passage from John’s gospel (4:5-42) which gets to the heart of what I discovered while among the people of Israel. John shared the details of Jesus’ encounter with a woman of Samaria. As he rested at Jacob’s well, Jesus surprised the woman by asking her for a drink of water. At the time, Jewish people avoided association with Samaritan people at all costs. Jesus’ request for water crossed a line better left undisturbed. Still, Jesus persisted in the exchange, offering the woman far more in return than a sip of water merited. When this woman ignored societal barriers and acknowledged Jesus, her life changed forever. Jesus extended the woman a second chance, or perhaps her sixth or twelfth chance, for happiness. Jesus offered no lecture regarding her failed marriages or anything else. Jesus simply accepted her as she was and asked that she open her heart to something more. In the end, that encounter touched the woman so deeply that she couldn’t help spreading Jesus’ good news throughout her town. As it happened, many turned to Jesus that day because the woman from Samaria indiscriminately shared her good fortune with them all.

I never expected our treks to Israel to reveal so much of Jesus’ life and lessons to me. I would never have guessed that the efforts of Palestinians and Jews, Muslims and Arabs, Christians and agnostics of every sort to live and to work together would so clearly mirror Jesus’ work among his contemporaries. Though national politics sometimes gets in the way, the majority of Israel’s people diligently invest themselves in building community. It seems that Jesus invited the woman from Samaria to do the same. When she shared the Jewish rabbi’s message of love and mercy, the woman inspired others to do the same. This Lent, as I try to open my heart more completely to Jesus, that wise and brave Samaritan woman nudges me along. Her eagerness to share all that Jesus had done for her inspires me to find ways to do the same.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Them All…

We are one body, individually members of one another.
Romans 12:5

As a child, I found the word “hate” to be terribly powerful. I refrained from using it for years. To “hate” anyone seemed to eliminate the possibility that I would ever learn to love him or her. In spite of the occasional teasing and physical trauma I suffered, I truly tried not to hate anyone.

My childhood resolve eventually faded and this became more difficult. Fortunately, college gave me more than the tools I needed to teach. It was there that my appreciation for children young and old grew exponentially. Later, when I had my own classroom, I couldn’t keep my students from occupying special places in my heart. It was more often a colleague or a student’s parent who tested my ability to love than it was any of the children in my classroom. I reminded myself often that these adults were also somebody’s children. I challenged myself to find reasons they these people might be loved by their parents and to focus on those attributes.

As I consider my frustration and sadness over so much of today’s news, I try to remember that those who turn our little worlds upside down and those who are playing havoc with the world at large are somebody’s children as well. We are all God’s children and it is up to us to find ways to get along. Though our efforts may seem small in the grand scheme of things, they will make a difference just the same.

Merciful God, help us to see one another with your eyes and to love one another with your heart. Help us to bring peace and justice back into this world, one encounter at a time.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Indiscriminate Love

While waiting for an appointment, I tried several times to begin this reflection. Much to my dismay, distractions of every sort thwarted my progress. After vetoing my third attempt at an opening paragraph, I decided to close my eyes, contemplate life and offer a word of greetings to God. I’m usually quite good at blocking out the world around me. I thought I was succeeding until a conversation nearby became animated. The two women involved weren’t arguing. They were simply lamenting their grandchildren’s tough circumstances. Though I tried to return to my conversation with the Lord God, I couldn’t ignore the long list of troubles that these obviously dear friends shared. I closed my eyes to hide the tears which formed on their behalf. “Dear God,” I prayed, “please help them and those poor kids. Let them know that you’re with them in all of this.” My name was called before I could add an “amen” to my plea. Though I will likely never see those worried grandmothers again, their sadness remained with me.

When I sat at my keyboard later that afternoon, melancholy continued to overwhelm me. As difficult as those situations are, the same and worse exist throughout this world of ours. I wondered what any of us can do to help all of the suffering children and adults whose situations seem more hopeless than ever. I didn’t help those worried grandmas. How would I make a dent in the rest of the misery around me? With that query in mind, I returned to today’s scripture passages and to my initial attempts. At the bottom of a page-full of notes, I read, “Use the one-liners!” One-liners? It was then that I recalled the quotes from Isaiah, Paul’s Letter to the Romans and Matthew’s gospel which I’d written on my notepad. “Of course!” I said aloud. Before returning to the task at hand, I glanced upward and whispered my thanks for that well-timed bit of inspiration.

Though today’s readings are rich with meaning, I couldn’t turn my attention from those precious one-liners. In the passage from Isaiah (Isaiah 56:1, 6-7), the author quotes God’s insistence that foreigners who seek the Lord are as welcome to share God’s company as those born into their community and their faith. This discourse ends with, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” I couldn’t help surmising that God also adds, “And my heart shall be called a heart which loves all peoples.” Though I felt great empathy toward those heartbroken grandmas, God actually endures their pain with them. While I do my best to comfort the suffering around me, God remains at their sides for the duration. I acknowledged that simply knowing that Someone out there feels our pain is a huge consolation. I whispered, “Thank you for caring.”

In the passage from Romans (Romans 11:13-15, 29-32), Paul turns his attention to the Gentiles because his own people have rejected him. While he gives his all to the Gentiles, Paul reminds them that Israel remains in God’s radar as well. Paul insists that this is the case, “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” The point for you and me is that regardless of the discouragement or anger which seemingly draws us away from God, God remains with us. I whispered again, “Thank you for your company.”

Today’s passage from Matthew’s Gospel (15:21-28) provides a somewhat puzzling example of God’s unshakable love for each one of us. I admit that at first reading Jesus seems a bit arrogant in his encounter with a Canaanite woman who seeks a cure for her tormented daughter. The woman has no intention of joining Jesus and his followers. Still, she approaches Jesus for a miracle. Jesus begins his response with his observation that as an outsider this woman has no business seeking the favor of the God of Israel. The woman pushes on and argues that even the dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table. Now, the men of Jesus’ day never engaged a woman in such intellectual banter. Though Jesus seems cruel in his remarks, he actually honors this woman’s wisdom and stature by arguing with her. Jesus honors the woman further when he rewards her profound faith with her daughter’s cure. Jesus tells her, “Oh woman, great its your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish!”

Though the cures for our ills and those of this world come far less dramatically, God remains with every man, woman and child who walks this earth whether or not we notice. In the mean time, it’s up to us to take those one-liners to heart and to live accordingly. As was the case with those worried grandmas, I cannot solve all of the problems which come my way. However, I can care and I can do something when the opportunity presents itself. In the process, I’ll make God’s precious presence evident to those who really need to know that God is with them.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I’m Weak, But…

We know that the law is spiritual,
whereas I am weak flesh…

Romans 7:14

While perusing my closet the other day, I whispered a prayer of thanksgiving. Summer clothing I’d purchased a while back continues to fit, so I’ll need only a few more things to get me through the warm weather. I offered that prayer because I know that I’m “up” a few pounds these days. I need to eliminate some high-calorie choices which have become habitual. I also need to eliminate the aggravation which inspires those choices. My mom used to say, “It’s not what you’re eating, but what’s eating you!” I laugh as I type this and look upward to say, “Mom, it is what I’m eating AND what’s eating me!”

Though I’d like to think that I’m “in control” most of the time, I must admit that I never know what my circumstances will do to my eating habits. It is in the midst of this self-doubt that I turn to the good apostle Paul. He had far more to deal with than I, yet his enthusiasm regarding his relationship with God never faltered. He simply admitted his weakness and then began anew again and again and again. It seems to me that this is the perfect opportunity for me to do the same.

Compassionate God, you know me better than I know myself. So it is that I place my insecurities in your hands where they will fade in the radiance of your love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Word is LOVE

We are one body, individually members of one another.
Romans 12:5

As a child, I found the word “hate” to be terribly powerful. I refrained from using it for years. To “hate” anyone seemed to eliminate the possibility that I would ever learn to love him or her. In spite of the occasional teasing and physical trauma I suffered, I truly tried not to hate anyone.

When my childhood resolve eventually faded, this became more difficult. Fortunately, college gave me more than the tools I needed to teach. It was there that my appreciation for children young and old grew exponentially. Later, when I had my own classroom, I couldn’t keep my students from occupying special places in my heart. It was more often a colleague or a student’s parent who tested my ability to love than it was any of the children in my classroom. I reminded myself often that these adults were also somebody’s children. I challenged myself to find reasons they might be loved by their parents and to focus on them.

As I consider my frustration and sadness over so much of today’s news, I try to remember that those who turn our little worlds upside down and those who are playing havoc with the world at large are somebody’s children as well. We are all God’s children and it is up to us to find ways to get along. Though our efforts may seem small in the grand scheme of things, they will make a difference just the same.

Merciful God, help us to see one another with your eyes and to love one another with your heart. Help us to bring peace and justice back into this world, one encounter at a time.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved