Close Enough…

Upon disembarking Jesus saw a vast crowd.
He pitied them for they were like sheep without a shepherd
and he began to teach them at great length.

Mark 6:34

In Israel, when we arrived at Tabgha, our guide shared that this is the place where many believe Jesus fed the multitudes with a few fish and loaves of bread. As we drove off to the next site, I nuzzled into my seat on the bus. It had been a long day and I wondered what was it like to be among the crowds who saw all that Jesus did? What must it have been like to get to know him more personally?

A community of Jewish Christians likely occupied the area from Jesus’ time for perhaps four centuries. Egeria, a Spanish pilgrim from 380 C.E., wrote her observations when she visited this place. She’d found rock formations which were considered memorials of the three events which occurred there: the Sermon on the Mount, the feeding with loaves and fishes and a post-resurrection appearance to the apostles. Though it is possible that all three events occurred as was believed, modern scholars suggest that this may not be the case.

Once again, I found that the location of Jesus’ activities meant far less to me than all that he did. Though Jesus may not have taught in this place, he certainly taught with his every word and deed wherever he walked. Though the loaves and fish may not have fed a full five thousand that day, Jesus certainly exhibited his compassion for the people in a memorable way. Perhaps this also wasn’t a place Jesus visited after he rose from the dead. His assertion that there is life after this life lives on regardless.

At the end of that day, I gave thanks for this opportunity to walk where Jesus walked, to breathe the air Jesus breathed and to see the sights Jesus saw. Whether as near as his closest friends or as distant as the crowds who watched from afar, simply being there mattered to me.

Being there for one another is just as important these days. Though we must engage in social distancing for all of our safety, we can get closer via a phone call, a text, a note or an email. Be creative and share the love!

Dear God, thank you for the gift of Jesus’ life among us.

©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

Find The Time

All who touched him got well.
From Mark 6:56

Lent 2020 begins tomorrow. Every year, I try to set aside these forty days much the way a couple sets aside time to be together. If my husband and I are smart enough to retreat in order to nurture our love for each other, it makes sense to do the same in our relationships with God. So it is that I’m attempting to recapture the zeal of my childhood Lents by planning ahead for this special walk to Easter.

I’m at an advantage this year because images of Jesus’ homeland are etched into my memory. While in the Holy Land, I couldn’t help seeing Jesus’ shadow among the crowds in Jerusalem, in the dusty desert, near the synagogue in Magdala and on the paths winding through Capernaum. The gospels leave little doubt regarding Jesus’ popularity with ordinary people. His palpable presence everywhere I turned touched my heart. Though the temple hierarchy saw Jesus as a threat and the Romans considered him a nuisance, those of little or no stature -including me- find everything in him. This is the reason Lent is so precious to me. It gives me the time to get to know more about that irresistible Jesus who doesn’t need a thing from any of us, but who longs for our company just the same.

Today, let’s begin to plot our Lenten journeys. On Ash Wednesday, let’s assume our places among Jesus’ contemporaries. Let’s seek him out in every nook and cranny we pass along the way. Let’s seek him out in those we love, in those who love us and in those who need our love more desperately than ever. Trust, he will be in all of those places.

Dear God, as I prepare for my Lenten journey, encourage me with a glimpse of that heart which is blind to my imperfections and loves me as I am.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

K… Kindness

People who are well do not need a doctor;
sick people do. I come to call upon sinners.

From Mark 2:17

K is for Kindness. Unexpected kindness is the most effective variety of this virtue. When I’m not at my best, a bit of TLC can salvage the moment for all concerned. I became a recipient of random kindnesses early on in my life. When I woke my mom in the middle of the night with a childhood woe, she responded with patience and love. She returned me to my room and tucked me into my bed with a second good-night kiss. Thoughtful teachers responded to my occasional transgressions with understanding rather than anger. Their mercy encouraged me to be my best. When life became more complicated through my teens and into adulthood, I responded far more positively to a kind word than to a less-than-civil reprimand. The good news in all of this is that I took these lessons in kindness to heart. When I became a teacher and a parent, I found that my students and my own children responded best when kindness set the tone of our interactions.

You know, it’s easy to extend kindness to the people we like and to those who offer the same courtesy to us. Unfortunately, those whose names aren’t on our “A List” likely need our kindness most. We need only to look Jesus’ way to find examples of kindness offered indiscriminately. That kindness changed lives and this world forever.

Gracious God, thank you for giving us the capacity to respond to one another with kindness. Inspire us to do so, especially when it’s most difficult and most needed.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Favorite Teacher

Jesus saw a vast crowd. He pitied them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them…

From Mark 6:34

My favorite image of Jesus is “Jesus the Teacher”. He saw the need in every face before him and couldn’t help responding. Jesus used his lessons and stories to make his point. Of course, Jesus followed every one with tangible examples of his meaning through his own behavior. Powerful as Jesus’ words were, his actions were even more so.

During this New Year, I’m trying hard not to judge -others or myself. Though I’ve avoided speaking my sentiments aloud, I’ve felt them just the same. It seems to me that if I wish to succeed I need to attend to Jesus the Teacher. When I pay attention, I find that I’m most deeply taken with Jesus’ focus. Jesus focused upon those around him. We find the truest representation of our endearing, loving, merciful, welcoming and forgiving Lord in his encounters with others. This is also where I will find my best self: in my concern for others.

Jesus also taught us to be concerned about ourselves. When Jesus stole away to be alone or to pray, he showed us that we are allowed and encouraged to do the same. Sometimes, we simply need to stop and to think and to look above to assess our own well-being. When I take an honest look at my feelings and the reasons for them, I replace my judgment of those around me with compassion. I also do the same for myself. Suddenly, everything changes for the better!

Loving God, thank you for our teacher Jesus who offers us the best lessons of all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Embrace The Journey

He instructed them to
take nothing on the journey
but a walking stick…

Mark 6:8

My husband loves to travel. The other day, when I gathered up the newspaper for the recycle bin, I found the travel sections from three old papers. Because the weather is growing colder and the impending holidays are making us busier, this shouldn’t surprise me. My husband has always coped with life’s demands by daydreaming -and perhaps planning- a trip of some sort.

I’ve shared before that I’m a reluctant traveler. This wasn’t the case when our sons were young and we drove to our chosen destinations. Now that they have married and vacation with their own families, my husband has been more daring with his travel plans. This means that they include airplanes and cramped seating which drives me crazy-literally!

The truth is that I always have a wonderful time once we reach our destination regardless of where it is. Perhaps this is what Jesus was getting at when he sent out his disciples with no luggage and no inhumane seating arrangements. Perhaps he didn’t want anything to keep them from making the most of their travels among us.

Thank you, Dear God, for my persistent husband who continues to plan much-needed times away for us. Bless him with many more wonderful trips and bless me with the courage to embrace his plans and to enjoy this beautiful world and its wonderful people.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved