We’re All In The Same Boat!

Two Sundays ago, I rose early and headed off to church. I hoped to offer a “welcome home” to friends from St. Paul’s who’d returned from Israel a few days earlier. Though I was unable to physically join them on this trip, I traveled with them in spirit. The tour director and fellow tourists had shared this adventure via photo and video posts on Facebook. They’d allowed me to be with them, at least virtually, every step of the way. Though these images indicated that all concerned had enjoyed an amazing trip, I wanted to confirm this for myself. As it happened, the smiles and comments of the six friends I met that morning indicated that they’d experienced the same once-in-a-lifetime adventure I’d enjoyed in Israel. When I returned home, I pulled out the albums which chronicle our trips there. Within minutes, that unexpected sense of peace which greeted me in the Holy Land returned…

For reasons unknown to me, the time I spent in Israel felt very much like a family reunion. Several years earlier, Mike and I had traveled to Croatia to meet his cousins there. Two years ago, we flew to Quebec to meet my dad’s family. Last summer, we traveled to Sicily to visit Mike’s grandparents’ hometown. Each of these encounters left us with a heartwarming sense of belonging. I’d experienced precisely the same in Israel. When I pondered this phenomenon, it occurred to me that going to the Holy Land was a family reunion as well. My own story began there long ago when the one whom they called “Teacher” laid the foundation for everything of importance to me. Jesus revealed the essence of God’s love and our capacity to love one another. I wouldn’t be the person, child, sibling, wife, mom, aunt, grandma and friend I am today if I hadn’t taken these lessons to heart. Though our family trees may not indicate that we share our genealogy, Jesus and I are family just the same. Every encounter with Jesus’ history in the Holy Land proved to be an encounter with my own history as well. When I revisited our photos of The Jesus Boat, I understood why I take today’s passage from Luke’s gospel (Luke 5:1-11) to heart.

We read a great deal about fishermen and boats in the gospels. Though some of his followers abandoned their fishing businesses to follow Jesus, he went back to their boats often to get from place to place, to preach and to rest. Though no one can say with any certainty that Jesus set foot on The Jesus Boat, this vessel is definitely a relic from Jesus’ day. Because it was discovered just north of Magdala and just south of Tabgha, Jesus may have looked upon this boat as he lingered on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The boat is displayed in a museum in Kibbutz Ginosar. There I learned of Moshe and Yuval Lufan, brothers and fellow fishermen like Peter and Andrew. They discovered the ancient boat buried in mud near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I was struck by the excitement of these two who couldn’t hide their amazement over this discovery. Their treasure shook both the archaeological world and the spiritual world to their cores. No one had ever before unearthed such an old vessel in such complete condition. This bit of Jesus’ history is particularly special to me because it gives life to Luke’s telling of Jesus’ adventure with Peter and Andrew, James and John.

As Luke tells it, Jesus had been preaching among a crowd near the Lake of Gennesaret (also called The Sea of Galilee) when he saw Simon washing his nets. Jesus boarded Simon’s boat and asked the fisherman to pull his boat into the water just a short distance from the shore. Simon must have been taken with Jesus because he obliged immediately. After preaching from Simon’s boat for some time, Jesus asked his unsuspecting friend to sail into the deep water and to cast his nets once again. Practical man that he was, Simon pointed out that he’d worked all night in the same area and had caught nothing. Still, Simon did as Jesus asked. Almost immediately, the poor man’s nets became so full that they threatened to tear. Simon’s fellow fishermen came to the rescue as his boat might have sunk under the weight of those fish. Having seen The Jesus Boat first hand, I understand Simon’s fear! Still, small as that boat was, Luke tells us that Simon seemed to fear something else far more than his sinking boat. Witnessing this miracle filled him with absolute awe and trepidation. Simon seemed to wonder, “Who am I to be in the company of this Jesus who can work such wonders?” Indeed, Simon followed this thought with a command to Jesus: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Jesus’ response to the fearful Simon is the reason I take Luke’s account to heart. Though Simon doubted what part he could possibly play in Jesus’ plan, Jesus remained steadfast in his confidence in Simon. Though one day Jesus would rename his humble friend Peter, it was the essence of the old Simon which compelled Jesus to ask him to follow him and to work at his side. Whenever I doubt myself, I must open my ears as Simon did to God’s call. Incapable and unworthy as I may seem to me, I must never doubt my place in God’s world and God’s plan. Nor should you!
©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Alive Again!

Though I’m echoing sentiments I’ve already shared regarding my visits to Israel, they merit repeating. During our first trip, I quickly discovered that the precise locations of the events of Jesus’ life didn’t concern me. Breathing the air Jesus breathed and walking in the places where Jesus walked were quite enough for me. Being among people who resembled Jesus, his family, his neighbors and his disciples touched me deeply. During last year’s trip, I became attuned to what Jesus’ life may actually have been like. This year, a picture of Jesus of Nazareth formed within me. With every passing day, I felt I’d come to know Jesus more intimately than I ever had before. We were on the Sea of Galilee when I began to fully appreciate this remarkable phenomenon.

Last year, our guide Yossi had made special arrangements for this voyage. He’d insisted that we sail on Daniel’s boat. This year, though Daniel had taken the day off, he ventured out to offer us the tour we were promised. How relieved I was when I saw Daniel at the helm! After we made our way out onto the water, I settled in as Jesus might have two millenniums ago while Daniel shared his music and his story. The now-familiar tale of this remarkable man served as the backdrop to my own musing regarding the time Jesus spent on the shores of this historic body of water…

Daniel is a Messianic Jew who believes that there is no more waiting for the messiah. Daniel was born to a young unmarried Orthodox Jewish woman who gave her son up for adoption to a secular Jewish family. Though his family had no faith to share, they provided Daniel with a loving home in the port city of Haifa. This proximity to the water inspired Daniel’s love for the sea and his desire to become a boat captain one day. Daniel’s family also nurtured his love for music by gifting him with a set of drums early on. Unfortunately, Daniel endured a personal crisis as a young man. This death of sorts urged Daniel onto a quest deep within himself. Because his family hadn’t kept his adoption secret, Daniel continued his journey by finding his birth family: his mother and four siblings. After meeting them, Daniel relocated nearby. He stayed in a Kibbutz and found a job on a tour boat.

I recalled our tour guide Yossi’s experience growing up in a Kibbutz. There was no talk of God there. I assumed that Daniel’s newfound family were Orthodox Jews as his birth mother had been, so there would be no talk of Jesus with them. Also, offering tours of “holy” places is big business and certainly not a religious experience for local Jews and Palestinians. What was it then that prompted Daniel to take that extreme step toward Jesus? Apparently, Daniel discovered Jesus’ tangible presence on the Sea of Galilee just as I had. For five years, he listened to his passengers talk about their belief in Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew) as they sailed. All the while, Daniel absorbed the prayers, the music and the scripture passages they shared. Every day, Daniel pondered all that he saw and heard. In the end, Daniel couldn’t help being moved. Something within Daniel came to life the day he realized that he also believed in Yeshua. Yeshua had become Daniel’s most precious and life-giving treasure.

Daniel responds to Jesus’ presence in his life by sharing his music and his story during tours. My second encounter with Daniel transformed Jesus to the Yeshua of long ago. Daniel, Yossi and the Israelis I passed in the marketplaces, our hotels and at the sites we visited aren’t very different from the people who inhabited these places with Jesus. Daniel is ostracized by well-intentioned Jews who feel he has forsaken his faith. Yossi puzzles over local politics just as Jesus’ followers and his enemies did. Today’s Israeli’s struggle, just as people always have, to care for their families, to live peacefully and to at least taste the freedom to follow their hearts’ desires.

I share all of this because Jesus seems to have done for Daniel what he did for Lazarus two thousand years ago. Today, John’s gospel (John 11:1-45) tells us that Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus had taken ill and died. When Jesus went to Lazarus’ sisters to comfort them, Martha and Mary insisted that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had been with him. Do you know how many times I’ve looked upward to declare, “If you were here, things would be different!” Raising Lazarus was among Jesus’ greatest miracles. Daniel insists that this miracle was repeated in him when he welcomed Jesus into his life. I know that this miracle has been repeated within me every time I’ve survived one of the major and minor tragedies of my life. Jesus brings each of us back to life over and over again. The best part of all of this is that we can imitate Jesus’ miracle. Like Jesus, we can renew the lives of those we meet along the way as only we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gone Fishing!

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. The 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. It did the same on this second visit.

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 throughout the ages 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…

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

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

That Wonderful Boat

He called them, and immediately
they abandoned boat and father to follow him.

From Matthew 4:21-22

We read a great deal about fishermen and boats in the gospels. Though some of his followers abandoned their fishing businesses to follow Jesus, he went back to their boats often to get from place to place, to preach and to rest. Though no one can say with any certainty that Jesus set foot on The Jesus Boat, this vessel is definitely a relic from Jesus’ day. Because it was discovered just north of Magdala and just south of Tabgha, Jesus may have set his eyes on this boat as he lingered on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. This is the reason that, though I’d seen the boat last year, I was very excited to gaze upon it once again.

The boat is displayed in a museum in Kibbutz Ginosar. Before seeing it, we watched a short film which told the tale of Moshe and Yuval Lufan, brothers and fellow fishermen like Peter and Andrew. They discovered the ancient boat buried in mud near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Though the film was a rerun for me, I was struck once again the excitement of these brothers who couldn’t hide their amazement over this discovery. Their treasure had shaken both the archaeological world and the spiritual world to their cores. No one had ever before unearthed such an old vessel in such complete condition.

While the science behind The Jesus Boat’s preservation is fascinating, I’m more fascinated by Jesus’ presence in all of this. Once again, it matters little to me whether or not Jesus sailed in this particular boat. What does matter to me is the glimpse into Jesus’ daily life and the lives of those he loved which this boat afforded me. When I gazed upon this ancient relic, I imagined Jesus out on the water with his friends. That day, I experienced just a bit of the amazing adventure which was Jesus’ life among us!

Dear God, thank you for the treasures of this earth which make your presence among us undeniable.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

He Walked On Water

When the disciples saw him walking on water, they were terrified.
“It is a ghost!” they said, and in their fear they cried out.

Matthew 14:26

Our guide Yossi is not only an excellent teacher of Israeli life and an accomplished musician. He is also an archeologist who has earned a doctorate in biblical religions. All of this contributed to the wealth of information he shared along the way. The day we sailed the Sea of Galilee was no exception.

After reading Matthew’s account of this middle-of-the-night encounter, Yossi explained that far more was going on here that meets the eye. The original passage indicates that the disciples saw something which touched them to their cores. The Hebrew word for that something can mean either “ghost” or “spirit”. Yossi maintains that the disciples saw Jesus very differently as he moved toward them. They saw not a ghost, but God’s Spirit emanating from their master. Suddenly, they knew that Jesus was much more than an itinerant rabbi who had given them a new view of the scriptures, of life and of their God. If they had no inkling up to this point, their eyes were certainly opened during the wee hours of that morning on the Sea of Galilee..

I’ve puzzled over the scriptures since I was a little girl. Back then, my only resources were my own imagination, my patient mother and teachers and our parish priest who clarified things for me as best they could. Today, we have numerous resources to help us along our scripture-reading way. That day on the Sea of Galilee, I happily accepted Yossi’s explanation. It made perfect sense for Jesus to share his essence with his closest friends. Why wouldn’t they see God’s Spirit within him? When I pay attention, I discover that Jesus reveals the same for me in amazingly simple, yet important ways.

Loving God, thank you for revealing yourself in ways I can sometimes understand.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Singing Boat Captain

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

Mark 1:17

As it happened, our guide Yossi isn’t the only musician I met in Israel…

I recall that, last year, Yossi was very concerned that we board Daniel’s boat the morning we sailed on the Sea of Galilee. We waited in a long line to do so though other boats were available. Five minutes into our cruise, I understood Yossi’s determination when Daniel Carmel’s crew-mate took the microphone to introduce his captain. The man told us that Daniel is a Messianic Jew who operates his boating business for two reasons: To make a living and to spread the word about Jesus of Nazareth.

Daniel was born to an unwed Orthodox Jewish woman who gave him up for adoption to a secular Jewish couple. Though Daniel’s adoptive family gave him a wonderful life, a crisis in his late twenties prompted Daniel to connect with this birth mother as well. In the process, he discovered a second family who also welcomed him into their lives. To get to know them better, Daniel moved nearby. His new home on the shores of the Sea of Galilee prompted him to take a job on a tour boat. After years of listening to pastors preach about Jesus on the very sea he frequented, Daniel felt that this Jesus, Yeshua in Hebrew, was calling him just as he called Peter, Andrew and the rest. When Daniel purchased his own boat, he began to preach as well. He continues to do so today with his amazing singing voice.

For much of our cruise, Daniel Carmel sang familiar hymns in both English and Hebrew. His passion for his Lord touched everyone on board. This year, Daniel once again sang a most inspiring and prayerful homily.

Loving God, thank you for inspiring our prayer and for listening to us however we pray.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved