Love As God Loves

As a father loves his children,
so God loves us.

Psalm 103:13

Some years ago, I shared that I work hard at trusting in the goodness of humankind. I’m not foolish enough to believe that there are no evildoers among us. Still, I do believe that in the right circumstances most of us would choose to do good over evil fairly consistently. How I wish I could convince the powers that be that this is the case! Regardless of our ideological stances, we can all likely cite examples of those who agree with us and those who don’t who seem convinced of the opposite. Though this has been the case for a while, our suffering during this pandemic seems to have heightened our inability to get along.

So it is that I’m renewing my effort to trust in the goodness of humankind. I cannot claim credit for coming up with this approach. It is the result of everything I know about God. God loves each one of us and I think we repay this love best when we try to do the same.

Though we’ve been given many sources from which to garner our knowledge of God, I take the bulk of my knowledge from the life of Jesus. Jesus responded to those he met along the way with absolute love. He touched lepers to heal their bodies and their souls. He defended outcasts and shared meals with those others considered to be unclean. Jesus welcomed everyone he met along his way into his company. Jesus proved the be the consummate lover of humanity just like God who sent him to live among us. Jesus trusted in the goodness of humankind as God asked. Today, more than ever, I must do the same.

Loving God, be with me as I try to love as you do..

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

Free To Do Good

Brothers and sisters,
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another,
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13:8

My last position in education was at the county level. This position allowed me access to many people and opportunities to serve which I might otherwise have never encountered. I very much appreciated working with others at this level to benefit our area children.

One new friend had been elected to a state level office. This person understood the possibilities that came with this position and was anxious to add good will and good sense to the mix. Over time, frustration mounted. Every attempt to transform a good idea into practice required support of not-particularly-good ideas in return. In the end, my friend found that too many bad ideas became reality as a result of the “deals” which had to be made to gather support. In the end, my friend moved on to a place where there were no strings attached to anyone’s good deeds.

We all occasionally find ourselves holding things over the heads of others to get our way. In the end, I never feel very good about this arrangement. I’d much prefer that the other person simply did the right thing because it was right. I’m quite certain that God prefers it when I do the same.

Dear God, please give all of your children the wisdom to discern what is right and to act accordingly. Help us not to hinder our own goodness or the goodness of others by attaching strings to good deeds.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What Can I Do? Something…

“Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you.
And know that I am with you always…”

Matthew 28:20

While purging a kitchen drawer, I found a tiny plate which can’t be more than 5 inches in diameter. This antiquated memento features a sketch of President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy. Though this chipped bit of porcelain isn’t fine artwork, it elicited a smile. I quickly recalled the enthusiasm surrounding his candidacy. I followed the news to learn more about him and I cheered when he was elected. When Mr. Kennedy offered his inaugural speech, I learned about this man’s hope for the future. Our new president told us, “…ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.” At the time, I wondered. What could I do?

Though I was only in elementary school during this presidency, I recall Khrushchev’s rants and our fear of communism. I recall the worry surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis and the relief over its resolution. Though we fretted and prayed about such things, I felt safe. It was November 22, 1963, when everything changed. 1036 days into his term, President Kennedy was killed by an assassin.

On this difficult anniversary, regardless of our religious and political affiliations, I think we all have good reason to respond to Mr. Kennedy’s request. Today, I’m going to stop wondering. Today, I’m going to do something to make my little corner of this country a better place.

Patient and merciful God, you place your trust in us to care for this world and for one another. Today, inspire us all to do something to ensure that your trust is well-placed.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Pesky Politics!

…all the people were arguing among themselves…
From 1 Kings 19:10

When our friends who recently traveled to Italy chronicled their adventures every day via Facebook, they elicited fond memories of my husband’s and my trip there. These memories nudged me toward our Sicily album. As I perused those photos, I rekindled my fascination with the island’s rich history…

The local guides prided themselves in both Sicily’s natural beauty and the amazing contributions of the various ethnic groups who made Sicily their home over the centuries. I developed great respect for the Sicilian people who continue to celebrate humanity’s potential. They welcome immigrants from everywhere who wish to make their homes among them. At the same time, I found myself amused by the story behind two of Sicily’s most visited and beloved cathedrals. One was built to “outdo” the other. I still laugh over this as the concept of “outdoing” anyone when building a place of worship continues to puzzle me. I remember our tour guide’s response to my wry smile: “Politics. You know it’s everywhere, even in the church,” he said.

That guide’s comment wasn’t lost on me. His words challenged me to do my best to be open to others. Regardless of their differences in perspective and especially when “politics” is at work among us, I must resist my own need to “win”. It’s far more important for me and for all of us to be at one with those we’ve been given to love. Within our families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our churches and our nation, there’s simply no room for power struggles. We have much to accomplish together and this never seems to have been more true than it is today.

Loving God, open our hearts to all of those whom we meet along the way and inspire our efforts to work together.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

No Strings Attached, Honest!

Brothers and sisters,
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another,
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13:8

I retired from my career in education with a county level job. This position allowed me access to people and opportunities I might otherwise have never encountered. I very much appreciated working with others at this level to benefit our area children.

One new friend had been elected to a position at the state level. This person understood the possibilities that came with this position and was anxious to add good will and good sense to the mix. Over time, frustration mounted. Her every attempt to transform a good idea into practice required her support of not-particularly-good ideas in return. In the end, my friend found that too many bad ideas became reality as a result of the “deals” which had to be made to gather support. In the end, my friend resigned her elected position and moved on to a place where there were no strings attached to anyone’s good deeds.

We all occasionally find ourselves holding things over the heads of others to get our way. In the end, I never feel very good about this arrangement. I would much prefer that the other person simply did the right thing because it was right. I’m quite certain that God prefers it when I do the same.

Dear God, you’ve given us the wisdom to discern what is right and to act accordingly. Help us not to hinder our own goodness or the goodness of others by attaching strings to our good deeds.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved