Thanks for The Inspiration!

We have all been blessed with amazing people in our lives. Whether our acquaintances with them are short-term or last a lifetime, these individuals change us in unexpectedly remarkable ways. I gratefully acknowledge that I’ve been generously blessed in this regard. I honestly have no idea of who I would be if I hadn’t shared the path with the many exceptional souls who have graced my life. The guide who led us during our visits to the Holy Land is counted among them. Yossi claims to be a non-believer who is incapable of praying. Yet, during our time together, Yossi revealed the God of Israel through much of what he said and did…

I never expected to visit Israel’s holy places. That I’ve done so three times surprises me more than you can imagine. My first trip proved to be a homecoming of sorts. Yossi acknowledged early on that Israel is as much our homeland as it is his own. Yossi pointed out that our roots lie deep within Israel’s soil just as his do. Because I’d researched most of our destinations beforehand, I often allowed Yossi’s words to fade into the background while I absorbed the sites before me. I call this encounter a homecoming because I felt that I’d been to Nazareth and Magdala, Capernaum and Jerusalem a hundred times before. I’d visited these places and many others through my parents’ accounts of Jesus’ life, the scriptures, catechism classes, theology courses, several great homilies and good books. Over the years, I’ve developed enduring relationships with Jesus’ mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Martha, Mary and Lazarus to name few. For most of my life, I’d pictured each of them interacting with Jesus. These images came to life with Yossi’s every word regarding Jesus and the God to whom Jesus led the people.

My husband and I returned to Israel a second time to assist with the tour. This time, we helped to keep the group together while Yossi shared his wisdom regarding the sites and the God who seemed with us at every turn. This time, I found myself anticipating Yossi’s commentaries as I’d recalled each one with surprising accuracy. This time, Yossi spoke with greater urgency when he asked us to pray for peace in his country. “I cannot pray,” he reminded us, “so you must do this for me.” This time, I told Yossi often that he talked to God far more eloquently than most people I know. Every time, Yossi smiled shyly before resuming his narrative.

In January, Mike and I traveled to the Holy Land once again. This was an emotional endeavor in many ways. This would likely be our last encounter with Yossi on Israel’s soil. It would be our last opportunity to sail the Sea of Galilee and gaze upon the shoreline Jesus frequented. In Magdala, my tears welled up as the clouds rained upon the synagogue’s ruins. It was there or nearby that Jesus and Mary Magdalene forged the friendship which took them to Calvary. During this trip, I couldn’t help hanging on to Yossi’s every word. Yossi’s descriptions of Jesus’ work, the politics of Jesus’ time and the ruthlessness of the Pharisees tore at my heart. Jesus’ people suffered greatly under Roman rule. Jesus’ people also suffered greatly under the temple hierarchy who used their positions to secure their power and their own comfort at the people’s expense. Yossi shook his head as he acknowledged that much hasn’t changed since Jesus walked among us. “We need Jesus’ God to bring about peace,” Yossi insisted.

I share all of this because you and I are challenged to make the changes Jesus set in motion so long ago and which Yossi hungers for today. Our call begins with Sirach’s (15:15-20) encouragement to trust God. When we trust God, we will work to improve this world because we realize that the outcome which awaits us is worth the effort. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:6-10), Paul encouraged his followers to rely upon God’s wisdom rather than that of the world. Paul insisted that when we think as God thinks, we’re equipped to transform this world into God’s image of what it should be. Matthew’s gospel (5:17-37) tells us that Jesus called his disciples to do just that. Jesus listed the commandments one by one and then reinterpreted their meaning. It was not enough not to kill, not to commit adultery and not to lie. The Pharisees did as much. Jesus asked his followers to focus less upon the letter of The Law and more upon the spirit in which The Law was given. Once the disciples embraced the loving God to whom The Law guided them, Jesus knew they would indeed change their world.

It seems to me that Yossi has taken Jesus’ challenge to heart. He never missed an opportunity to remind us to pray and then to work toward peace in his country and here at home. Yes, I have been blessed with many amazing people in my life. I count Yossi among them because he echoes Jesus’ message and the essence of God’s love for us in both his words and his actions. More importantly, Yossi inspires me to do the same.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Repair The World

A few months ago, I heard about a very busy professional who truly took her faith to heart. Full as her schedule has always been, this woman committed herself early on to making a serious difference in the world. Though her occupation immersed her in public service, she felt impelled to do more than what was required of her in her workplace. I eventually learned that this woman was of the Jewish Faith and that the concept ofTikkun Olam (Tee KOON oh LUHM) inspired her to repair the world around her as best she could. Since I have a propensity to try to fix things, I decided I had much to learn from this wise person.

I was already familiar with the Jewish concept of mitzvah. Over the past few years, two young neighbors prepared in earnest for their Bat Mitzvahs. They studied the Torah carefully in order to read those sacred words with understanding and without error on their special days. They also refined their understanding of their faith and put it into action by doing good deeds for others. These mitzvahs were visible signs of the progress they’d made as they aspired to become devout Jewish women. Today, the girls’ younger brother is engaged in the same rigors as he prepares for his Bar Mitzvah. The woman I’d heard about continues the work she began at her own Bat Mitzvah through her current efforts.

Tikkun Olam is new to me. These words are Hebrew for “repair the world”. Though scholars of the Jewish faith can certainly explain the history of this term far better than I, for this writing I’m relying on the current understanding of many devout Jews. They view Tikkun Olam as a challenge. This concept inspires them to do as much as possible to repair the world in meaningful and lasting ways. In the process, these good people hope to make this world all that God intended it to be. While each of them engages in good deeds, they do so strategically to ensure that their efforts have lasting impacts. Busy as the woman I read about is, she takes her faith to the next level. She allows her faith to give purpose to everything she does. Her efforts make a world of difference to many.

I share all of this with you because you and I are also challenged to repair the world. Our call begins with encouragement in a passage from Sirach (Sirach 15:15-20). The writer insists that if we trust God we will live. If we truly believe this, we work to improve this world because the outcome which awaits us all is worth our effort. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:6-10), Paul encourages his followers to do as he has done by relying upon God’s wisdom rather than the wisdom of the world. When we think as God thinks, we cannot help transforming this world into God’s image of what it should be.

When I read this passage from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 5:17-37), I couldn’t help laughing. I wondered if Jesus was driven by the same concept which spurred on the woman I’d heard about. Was Jesus referencing Tikkun Olam? Just as this woman continues to do more than what is expected, Jesus called his disciples to do the same. Jesus listed the commandments one by one. Though the crowd before him had heard these precepts countless times before, Jesus reinterpreted their meaning. Jesus explained that it was no longer enough not to kill, not to commit adultery and not to lie. The scribes and Pharisees did as much. Jesus asked his followers to focus less upon the letter of The Law and more upon the spirit in which The Law was given. Once the disciples breathed in the meaning of these precepts, Jesus knew they would be impelled to do even more. Today, Jesus asks us to absorb the spirit of his teaching as well. Like that wonderful Jewish woman who is repairing the world as best she can, Jesus invites you and me to do the same.

We need only to stream the daily news, pick up a newspaper or click on our televisions or radios to assess our world’s need for repair. Sometimes, we can look in our own backyards to find the same. It seems to me that the ancient Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam had a very necessary place in Jesus’ world and it has a very necessary place in our world today. It’s up to you and me to repair the world one good deed at a time.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved