Good Reason To Love

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 11:50

This is not my favorite scripture passage. Caiaphas sends a chill down my spine. He’s speaking about Jesus, the Good Shepherd who would leave his entire flock to find one lost sheep. He’s speaking about the Father of the Prodigal Son who gave that young man half his wealth, watched him squander it and then welcomed him home. Caiaphas mustn’t have heard the parable about the pearl of great price for which a man sold everything. He must have missed the tale of the woman who swept up and dusted her house again and again until she found her precious coin. Poor Caiaphas seems to have missed everything of importance that Jesus said because he’s blinded and deafened by his desire to maintain his own stature and to remain in power.

You know, there are many people near and far who are distracted by their troubles as well. Though some have lost their perspective through selfishness much like Caiaphas, most suffer distractions wielded upon them by the unexplained and/or deliberate injustices of our human existence. Perhaps Caiaphas’ callousness serves as a reminder that many of our fellow humans have little about which to rejoice today. Perhaps Caiaphas’ hatred of Jesus encourages us to love as Caiaphas could not love. Perhaps Caiaphas’ influence finally changes its direction because it inspires us to care for those who need us most.

Good and Gracious God, thank you for using even our weaknesses to teach us to love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Beloved Poor

See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the Lord hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.

Psalm 69:33-35

Sometimes, when we hear or read about the poor, we assume that the term references those with dire material needs. Though this is often the case, God’s definition of “the poor” is all-inclusive. It references each and every one of us whenever our needs are material or otherwise. Sometimes, when we find ourselves doing well in the world’s eyes, we also find ourselves in need deep within us where it matters most. Just as the materially poor climb a slippery slope when it comes to establishing a secure life for themselves and their loved ones, those who seem to have the material things they need sometimes lose their grip on the things which truly matter.

There are times when we are all counted among God’s poor. This much-loved group includes us whenever life robs us of the things we need to continue on. Whether we are lacking money enough for a loaf of bread or love enough to care for our aging parent, God knows our suffering and shares our concern. Whether we are besought by the enemy before us or by the demons within us, God stands at our sides. We must remember that, in spite of our personal varieties of poverty, we will always have enough of God’s love to get by.

Loving and Caring God, thank you for recognizing our poverty in all of its forms and for easing us through it with your loving presence.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Blessed Are We

Blessed are you…
From Matthew 5:11

Though most of what I experienced in Israel captivated me, I clearly recall my excitement as we neared The Mount of the Beatitudes. Anyone familiar with the gospels likely recalls the words Jesus spoke to the crowds before him that day. Matthew 5:3-10 tells us that Jesus insisted…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

As I prepared to take in what I could from that precious place, I replayed these words in my head. There was nothing easy about being poor, mournful, meek or hungry in Jesus’ day. It was difficult to be merciful and peaceful when Jesus’ people received neither from their government or their temple. Perhaps they found consolation in the fate Jesus promised the persecuted because, indeed, they were. As we drew closer, I hoped that beautiful setting would inspire me to stay tuned, just as it inspired the crowds who listened so long ago…

Loving God, when you created this world and gifted us with it and with one another, did you hope we would behave as Jesus asked? Be with us as we try to do just that today and always.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Faith in Hope-Fulfilled

All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of God.

Psalm 98:3cd

As the New Year unfolds, I find myself inspired by faith and hope. I’ve encountered these virtues in people whom many view as having little reason for either. A young woman who continues cancer treatment celebrated Christmas bravely. She embraces 2017 with the certainty that blessings lie ahead. Family members who placed their dear husband, dad, grandpa, father-in-law, brother and cousin in God’s hands a few weeks ago mourn their loss by supporting one another with unrivaled love. A discouraged friend who gives herself in service to others day in and day out is beginning to see that her hope is fulfilled in everyone she touches. She’s learning to accept their thanks graciously and to take time for herself on occasion.

Too many in our human family suffer the worst this life has to offer. Each one endures his or her personal variety of devastation. Still, God’s presence at their sides encourages our hope that each one will endure and emerge with grace.

It is true that God’s salvation extends to all the ends of the earth. It’s up to us to open our eyes to see it, our arms to embrace it and our hearts to share it.

Loving God, wherever I find myself today, help me to move beyond my own trials with faith and hope in better things to come. In the process, help me to encourage others to do the same.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Swaddle Them With Love

Your ways, O Lord, make known to me;
teach me your paths.

Psalm 25:4

While spending the day with our grandson, I noticed the Advent Calendar. Though he is still a little young to make sense of it, next year, he will likely join his cousins in counting the days until Christmas. Our granddaughters’ calendar features a bare stable and twenty-five numbered pockets. Each pocket contains a stuffed figure which will complete the Nativity scene by Christmas. Every year, the girls take turns placing a little stuffed animal or person in or near the stable. Last year, while admiring the partially complete scene, our youngest granddaughter slipped Baby Jesus from the pocket marked December 25. “Look at poor Baby Jesus,” Claire told me. “He didn’t have any baby clothes so his mommy put a towel on him.” I explained that though Mary and Joseph had a hard time finding a place for Jesus to be born, they did bring some very special clothes for him. “This is what babies wore back then. They’re called swaddling cloths.”

As Claire tried to make sense of Jesus’ unfamiliar garb, I marveled as Claire expressed her concern regarding Jesus apparent poverty. After offering a prayer that Claire will always feel concern for those in need, I promised myself to respond to my own concern by doing something for someone today.

Loving God, help me to see your people’s need with your eyes and to respond to them with your heart.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Share Our Hay

Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
…They will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.

From Isaiah 35:4-10

A recent trip to Target brought me back to my classroom where I joined my students in counting the days to Christmas vacation. Most of the children found nothing better than freedom from school schedules and homework. A mother in the toy aisle who seemed to be struggling with her Christmas budget brought to mind those children who dreaded Christmas vacation. They found comfort in the structure of our classroom where the expected almost always came to fruition. Their school lunch was often the best of their meals and our simple class parties were the best of their Christmases. More sadly, the lack of material treasures in their lives paled in the shadow of their lack of security. The adults around them, heavily burdened with their own troubles, didn’t have the luxury of detecting the hopelessness growing in their children’s eyes.

My thoughts wander to a child of long ago. While Joseph searched for a place where Mary could give birth, Mary focused upon the child within. When they finally settled among the livestock that night, perhaps Joseph arranged the hay in that manger while Mary labored. Though it wasn’t much, that warm hay provided the best bed Mary and Joseph could offer Jesus that night. Perhaps the best we can do for those in need around us is to provide them with our own variety of hay. Though it may not be much, our best is always enough to those in need and to God.

God of love, help me to comfort those who need you most with my own variety of hay.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved