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

Home Again

Now it happened that, while Jesus was at table in Matthew’s home, many tax collectors
and those known as sinners came to join Jesus and his disciples at dinner.

Matthew 9:10

When I saw Capernaum on our Israel itinerary, I smiled. “This will be familiar territory,” I told myself. After leaving Nazareth to begin his work among us, Jesus settled in Capernaum. This fishing and farming town was the home of Peter, James, Andrew, John and Matthew who eventually became his disciples. Much to the Jewish people’s dismay, Capernaum was also home to many who were in service to the Romans including tax collectors. Those who did such work were ostracized. Their countrymen and the temple leaders believed that doing the work of pagans made these people pagans as well.

One evening while Jesus ate dinner with Matthew, several of his fellow tax collectors came to join them. This infuriated the Pharisees who demanded to know why Jesus would associate with such sinners. As for Jesus, he responded in the way which would become his hallmark. After explaining that the healthy and self-righteous had no need of him, Jesus told the Pharisees to learn the meaning of a line from their scripture: It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice.

Though Capernaum has a rich history dating back three millenniums before Jesus, it is Jesus’ openness to even the most despised of humanity which endears this small town to me. As I looked over the remains of the second century synagogue there, I imagined Jesus’ earliest followers telling tales of the man who loved every single one of them.

Loving God, help me to follow Jesus’ example and to reach out to everyone who comes my way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

N… Name

At daybreak, he called his disciples and selected twelve of them
to be his apostles: Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter…

Luke 6:13-16

N is for Name. Some years ago, his name caused our younger son some serious heartache. One evening at dinner, when he could no longer contain his misery, Tim tearfully demanded, “Why does everyone in this family’s name start with an ‘M’ except for mine?” I’d never given Tim’s dilemma a thought, so I immediately and silently begged for guidance before I responded: “Tim, Dad’s name was Mike and my name was Mary when we met. We didn’t choose to have ‘M’ names. When Mike was born, Dad wanted to continue the family name, so we named him Michael. Yours is the only name that we really thought about. I love the name ‘Timothy’ and I love you. It was the perfect name for you.” This explanation was true. It was also enough to allow Tim to finish his dinner with a smile.

I believe that God gives us parents some latitude in naming our children. This is quite a gift since God knows the value of our names. God renamed Abram when God sent him off. This Abraham would father the Jewish people. Jesus gave Simon a new name. Simon Peter became the rock upon whom Jesus built his church. Later, when Saul vengefully persecuted the followers of Jesus, Jesus stepped in and renamed him. Paul became one of the greatest teachers of Christian living.

Though your name and mine were likely bestowed with a bit less fanfare than those of our biblical predecessors, God uses them with the same expectation. In every opportunity which comes our way, God calls our names with great love and with great hope in our responses.

Speak, Loving God, for we will listen as you call our names.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

N is for Name

At daybreak, he called his disciples by name… Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter,
and Andrew his brother, James and John, Phillip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot.

From Luke 6:13-16

N is for Name. The day my mom gave birth to me, she and my dad hadn’t yet selected my name. They had some time to decide because new mothers had longer hospital stays back then. The day after, my mom’s sister visited her. When Aunt Lucille asked my name, my mom admitted that she and my dad hadn’t yet decided. With that, Aunt Lucille immediately suggested, “Mary Ellen! I have Jean Ellen and I would’ve named my second daughter Mary Ellen.” My aunt wouldn’t have a second daughter because her husband had passed away some months earlier. Without a second thought, my mom responded with absolute love: “We’ll name her Mary Ellen!” When my dad arrived, my mom announced her decision. His first response was, “Where did you get that name?” When my mom explained, my dad agreed that his brother’s wife had offered the perfect name for me.

Naming someone is a powerful gift. My mom named me to remind my aunt of just how much she is loved. God renamed Abram when God sent him off to father the Jewish people. Jesus renamed Simon who became Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus built his faith community. When Saul vengefully persecuted that community, Jesus renamed him. Paul is among the greatest teachers of Christian living.

Though your name and mine were bestowed with a bit less fanfare than those of our biblical predecessors, God uses them with the same expectation. In every opportunity which comes our way, God calls your name and mine with great love and with great hope in our responses.

Dear God, we listen as you call our names and we respond as best we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Pebble or a Rock?

“And I say to you that you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church…”
From Matthew 16:18

While checking my journal from this trip to Israel, I found a curious quote from our guide Yossi. Much to my dismay, I failed to record his entire comment. Still, I recall my interest when Yossi used a word derived from “cephas” to describe a type of mosaic he’d pointed out. When I responded with a puzzled look, Yossi explained that it was given this name because it was made from pebbles. “Mary, you know this. Pebbles. Little rocks!” As I write it occurs to me that I didn’t get Yossi’s full explanation because I was distracted by that familiar word: cephas.

If you have had any exposure to the gospels, the line I cite above is likely familiar to you. Though I chose to quote Matthew, other writers included similar words in their accounts of this incident. I’ve read both the Greek “Petros” and the Aramaic “Cephas” in these passages which I correctly interpreted as “rock”. Still, when Yossi used “cephas” to reference tiny pebble-sized mosaic pieces, he gave me a good deal to think about regarding Jesus’ selection of Peter as the foundation of his church.

While Yossi went on to explain the origin of that mosaic, I drifted into the moment when Jesus turned to Simon and renamed him Peter. He not only called Simon “Rock”; he also told Simon that he would be the rock upon which Jesus would build his church. I laughed to myself as I wondered, “What if Jesus actually meant to call Simon a pebble? What if Jesus was actually in the process of beginning another miracle here? What if Jesus was showing us all that, even though Simon was a pebble in the grand scheme of things, he was pebble enough to take on an amazing role in Jesus’ work?”

Now I am no scripture scholar and I won’t argue with the numerous commentaries which offer the traditional interpretation of Jesus’ words here. Still, I find great hope and great consolation in the possibility that Jesus could do so much with a pebble like Simon. What might he do with a pebble like me?

O Creative God, you fill us with possibilities from the moment we take our first breaths. Thank you for having such great faith in us, whether we are pebbles, rocks or boulders.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

At Home In Capernaum

Now it happened that, while Jesus was at table in Matthew’s home… those known as sinners came to join Jesus and his disciples at dinner.
Matthew 9:10

I was very excited to return to Capernaum on this trip. “This is familiar territory,” I told myself. Yossi share my enthusiasm as he remarked, “This is most important among the sites of Jesus’ work.” It was the place that Jesus came to after leaving Nazareth to begin his public ministry. This fishing and farming town was home to Peter, James, Andrew, John and Matthew, all of whom eventually became his disciples. Much to the Jewish people’s dismay, Capernaum was also home to many who were in service to the Romans. Those who did such work were ostracized. Their countrymen and the temple leaders believed that doing the work of pagans made these people pagans as well.

Matthew was a tax collector. One evening, several of his fellow tax collectors joined him for dinner. This infuriated the Pharisees who demanded to know why Jesus would associate with such sinners. As for Jesus, he responded in the way which would become his hallmark. After explaining that the healthy and self-righteous had no need of him, Jesus told the Pharisees to learn the meaning of a line from their scripture: It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice.

Though Capernaum has a rich history dating back three millenniums before Christ, Jesus’ openness to even the most despised of humanity is the treasure which endears this small town to me. As I looked over the remains of the second century synagogue there, I imagined Jesus’ earliest followers telling tales of the man who loved every single one of them.

Loving God, help me to follow Jesus’ example and to reach out to everyone who comes my way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved