History’s Jesus

A family record of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.
Matthew 1:1

As he guided us to and from sites in Israel, our guide’s other roles frequently emerged. Yossi is both an archaeologist and a professor of biblical religions. He is also an astute student of Israeli history and current events as well as of human nature. This became apparent when Yossi spoke of The Pilate Stone which was discovered in 1961. Archaeologists and historians agree that his small slab of limestone offers definitive proof that Pontius Pilate indeed existed and that he served as Roman Prefect. It was in this role that Pilate handed over Jesus to be crucified.

While making his commentary, Yossi added that there are some who continue to doubt the historical reality of Jesus. With that, he went into professor-mode to list secular sources which reference Jesus. The ancient historian Tacitus noted that Nero blamed Christians for the fire which destroyed Rome in 64 CE. Those Christians believed in “The Christ”. Another historian wrote that Pliny the Younger asked advice regarding how to deal with Christians since they included adults and children of both genders. In the Talmud, written by Jewish Rabbis between 70 and 200 CE, Jesus is referenced as a sorcerer among other things. Yossi maintained that these writers’ failure to endorse belief in Jesus promoted Christianity by proving in the secular arena that Jesus actually existed.

I’ve never considered the possibility that Jesus didn’t live among us. Though I realize there are people living on this earth who’ve never heard Jesus’ name, I’ve always considered Jesus’ life among us to be a given. Still, I wonder how evident this reality is in my life. Though I reference Jesus ad infinitum in my writing, do I reference Jesus in my living to that extent?

As I continue in my efforts to participate responsibly in our battle against COVID-19, I need to reflect the love Jesus taught me to share in all that I do.

Dear Jesus, thank you for your loving example.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Fishers of People

He said to them, “Come after me and
I will make you fishers of men.”

Matthew 4:19

One of the most beautiful sites in Magdala is The Boat Chapel. This chapel features a large semicircular window behind the altar which allows those present to view the Sea of Galilee as they pray. Even more striking is the altar itself which is shaped like a boat. When I entered the chapel for the first time, the “boat” in the sanctuary took my breath away.

In Jesus’ day, the Sea of Galilee teemed with fish just as it does today. Magdala enjoyed an excellent economic standing as a result of the fishing industry which thrived there. One wonders why Peter and Andrew left their boats and their livelihoods to follow Jesus. One wonders what they were thinking when Jesus asked them to apply their fishing skills to gathering the rest of us into their company.

We know well that Peter and Andrew weren’t the only ones to leave their jobs to follow Jesus. Nor was Mary Magdalene alone in her admiration and support of this amazing man who’d called each one of them by name. This phenomenon has continued two millenniums since in spite of our often mediocre fishing skills. Just as Jesus placed his work in the hands of Peter, Mary and the others, he entrusts it to us.

It seems best to proceed as Jesus did, one loving interaction at a time, especially now…

Loving God, help me as I hone my fishing skills so I can cast your love everywhere toward everyone. Maybe I’ll catch a heart or two along the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

Be Merciful

Blessed are they who show mercy;
mercy shall be theirs.

Matthew 5:7

Many beautiful churches, mosques and chapels flank the holy places within Israel’s borders. The Mount of the Beatitudes is no exception. The Church of The Beatitudes was built in 1938 for the Franciscan Sisters. Our guide shared an unexpected aspect of the building’s history. It was funded by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Though history seems to indicate otherwise, I hope that Jesus who first spoke The Beatitudes touched this tyrant in some way.

Our guide also pointed out that the dome of this church is eight-sided. Each side depicts one of Jesus’ “Blest are…” statements. As I consider Jesus’ radical stance in viewing the most troubled of us as blessed, I cannot help thinking of Mussolini and the many other dictators who have ravaged our world. Mussolini seems to have been inspired by his father who was an outspoken anti-cleric. Why did his father’s message take hold over everything else he learned?

I cannot explain Mussolini’s actions any more than I can explain those of the others who have marred our history with their atrocities. However, I think I can explain Jesus’ thinking when he encountered such evildoing. It was sixty years ago. My widowed aunt and her children lived in the flat below us. It was late at night when a mugger brutally beat my aunt as she returned from her job cleaning office buildings downtown. The following morning, my mother told us what had happened. We scrambled down the stairs to wish our aunt well. Bruised and disfigured as she was, my aunt told us, “I’m praying hard for that guy. Can you imagine the terrible things that must have happened to him to make him do this to me? You need to pray for him, too.”

When Jesus looked into the eyes of the suffering and of those who caused that suffering, he saw everything that brought them to the moment at hand. Today, I’ll pray for all of us who are doing terrible things to others and I’ll pray for their victims. I’ll also replace my own unkind urges with mercy. I can’t afford to contribute any more suffering to this world of ours. None of us can.

Merciful God, give us loving and merciful hearts like yours.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

One People, One Family

Blessed too are the sorrowing;
they shall be consoled.

Matthew 5:4

When my husband and I left for Israel, I carried some baggage in addition to that mid-sized suitcase in which I’d managed to pack everything I needed for the trip. As I typed “everything I needed”, I realized that the other baggage which weighed me down wasn’t necessary after all.

I shared earlier that this trip included much more than visits to Israel’s numerous holy places. For me, every encounter with Israel’s people and my increasing understanding of their present-day life and struggles added to the holiness of Jesus’ long ago home. In every direction I looked, I found remnants of the lives of Jesus and his contemporaries. Israel had changed beyond recognition in some ways, yet it remained the same in many others. Perhaps this was the case for me as well. With every passing moment, I remained while a bit more of that unnecessary baggage disappeared.

This freed me to respond to our guide Yossi’s ongoing requests for prayers. “Pray for peace among us,” Yossi repeated. At the same time, Yossi did his part to build relationships among his countrymen. He brought us to a Palestinian restaurant, an Arab gift shop and cafe, an Arab glass factory, the home of a Messianic Jewish couple and Shabbat dinner with an Orthodox Jewish family. Yossi’s exchanges with those who hosted us made it obvious that Yossi had nurtured relationships with each one. Afterward, Yossi observed that regardless of the troubles which beset each group, “They are just like us. All they want is the chance to work hard and to bring home food for their families.” In his own way, Yossi consoled the sorrowing with the gifts of his support, his friendship and our prayers.

Loving God, help us to bring you to those who need you most just as Yossi does.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Land, Indeed!

Jesus left the temple precincts then,
and his disciples came up and pointed out
to him the buildings of the temple area…

Matthew 24:1

While in Israel, we traveled from place to place on a coach bus. I appreciated the large windows which allowed me to take in everything we passed along the way. Throughout these “between site” rides, our guide often provided additional commentary regarding the sites we’d just left, the places we approached and modern-day life in Israel. I appreciated all of this as Yossi is a fountain of rich information which he shared with generosity and great passion.

Though I carried a small journal with me throughout each of our trips, I wrote very little in it this time around. I found it more difficult than ever to put my feelings about the sights and sounds and people around me into words. I found it exponentially more difficult to express the deep connection I felt with them all. Before I realized what had happened, my trip to “Israel” had become my trip to the “Holy Land”. All that I learned about this place, whether of a religious or a secular nature, revealed some aspect of Jesus, his people and the God whom Jesus revealed to us.

Knowing how deeply this experience has effected me, I can only imagine what it was like to encounter Jesus in the flesh. Perhaps I have…

Loving God, thank you for allowing me to see your face in the sights and sounds and people of that precious place.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved