God’s Sense

When I got up this morning, I planned to check this reflection for typos and then to schedule it for next Sunday (today, to you, Dear Reader). This was before I heard the news regarding that horrific shooting in Las Vegas. Suddenly, the sadness within me and around me took a back seat to the events unfolding fifteen hundred miles away. I had written about that overwhelmingly painful place we visit when our heartache gets the best of us. I’ve been there. I know some of you have been there as well because you’ve shared your stories with me. “There” is that place far beyond disappointment and well past anger. “There” is that place where our misery gives way to tears as we wonder what to do next. I’m writing of those times when you or I or a loved one has done everything right only to discover that, in spite of our best effort, the result is completely wrong. After watching subsequent news reports, I’m certain that those hurt and their loved ones question this wrong turn in their reality. In today’s gospel (Matthew 21:33-43), Jesus offers the parable of a landowner who has been to this place as well…

The landowner in Jesus’ story is a savvy businessperson who’s done everything necessary to net a healthy crop of grapes from his property. Jesus told his audience that the man “…planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine-press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.” It seems that this landowner was a person of means accustomed to engaging in such transactions. He employed tenants to whom he’d given housing and a living wage to tend his vineyard. As a result, these tenants enjoyed the opportunity to live respectably and the landowner increased his holdings. This arrangement should have been a sweet deal for all concerned. Unfortunately, the tenants didn’t live up to their responsibilities in all of this. They wanted much more than their fair share. At harvest time, when the landowner sent his servants to retrieve his share of the grapes, two were beaten and one was killed. What should have been a simple settling of accounts developed into an ugly scenario. When the landowner sent a second cohort to gather what was his, they were met with violence as well. Completely shocked by this outrage, the landowner sent his son to settle the matter. He was convinced that the tenants would respect his son and hand over what was due. Unfortunately for the landowner and his son, the tenants viewed the young man as an obstacle. Those tenants killed the man’s son to secure his inheritance for themselves.

I would never have predicted this end to Jesus’ parable. The landowner had behaved appropriately in everything. He was a good businessperson who paid his employees well. When things went completely wrong and he lost his own son, what more was there to do? Jesus posed this very question to his followers who responded, “…He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” Though I see what those present were getting at, I can’t let go of the reality that nothing will bring back the landowner’s son. If I’d been in the landowner’s shoes, I would have been able to do nothing more than to weep over the senseless loss of my child until my tears ran out. Neither future tenants nor bountiful harvests nor successful business deals of any sort would fill the emptiness within me. The families of those lost in that Las Vegas shooting likely share these sentiments.

I’ve puzzled over this parable. In the process, I’ve discovered that I don’t like being immersed into a scenario which so accurately echoes the events which cause us heartache today. I’m reluctant to analyze Jesus’ words. Still, the pain of the moment compels me to do just that. Deep within, I realize that God will eventually make sense of everything. Deep within, I realize that God shares that “sense” with us if we take the time to attend to it. It is God’s “sense” of things which makes it impossible for me to leave that landowner in his misery. It is God’s sense which insists that this isn’t the end for those hurt and lost in Las Vegas. Though Jesus never offered an outcome to his parable, I will. I say the landowner left those tenants to the authorities and then moved on. How could he find solace in further bloodshed when his son’s death had robbed him of so much? I say that the landowner found a way to get past his trauma. I say that God entered into the landowner’s story to assure him that he wasn’t alone. I say God helped him to embrace this life once again. I say God will do the same for our Las Vegas friends and for us.

God entered into your story and mine long ago. I think it began the day God first breathed life into us. This is the reason that, as sorrowful and hurtful as life can be, we somehow pull ourselves up to begin again Actually, it is God who offers the hand on which we balance ourselves and finally make it back to our feet.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All Is Well… Really!

Let us eat and celebrate because
this son of mine was dead and has come back to life.

From Luke 15:23-24

Because I’m a reasonably good listener, people sometimes share their troubles with me. So it is that I do my best to lessen their burdens of others. First, I listen. Sometimes, listening is enough. Sometimes, I can do something tangible to help in some small way. Sometimes, the person involved needs a change of heart which can be difficult at best to come by.

On these occasions, I peer deeply into my own heart for the truths which keep me going. Then, I share these things as best I can. You see, I can’t keep my heart from breaking for a person who doesn’t believe that God’s love is intended for him or her. So it is that I willingly invest several minutes and sometimes several conversations to convince this person otherwise. I say, “Though I was far from perfect, my mom loved me. Though I’m far from perfect, I will never stop loving my kids. If I can be so stubborn in this in spite of my imperfections, how much better must God be at loving me? How much better does God love you?”

You know, many aspects of this life are out of our control. Still, we can all rekindle our faith, invest heavily in our hope and embrace God’s love. Though life around us seems to have run amok, God has not. “Yes,” God tell us, “I am here for you!”

Dear God, you have voiced your love for us again and again. Help us to take your words to heart for ourselves and for one another.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Try and Try Again

For the past few months, my husband has referred to our home as Wedding Central. Though, as a deacon, he normally witnesses only two or three weddings per year, by the end of this year, he will have witnessed twelve. The good news is that he has enjoyed working with the couples involved who seem happy and prepared to take on this commitment. The better news is that several of the couples are personal friends, so both Mike and I have or will be present at their nuptials.

Whenever I attend a wedding, tears fall in tiny trails down my cheeks. Some of the tears come with memories of our own wedding. My thoughts just before I walked down the aisle and throughout the ceremony remain a vivid memory. When I witness another couple exchanging their promises to love, honor and cherish, the successes of our marriage bring tears of joy. Unfortunately, these happy tears are tempered by tears of sadness over our failures in this regard. Each time, I end these melancholy bouts with three prayers. I pray that the newlywed couple of the day will not be discouraged by the failures that are a part of all of our relationships. I pray that the two will hold on to the love which brought them together and that they will continue to nurture it. Finally, I pray that they discover the art of keeping joy alive in their relationship. My husband and I have managed to stay together for four decades, mostly due to our feeble attempts at all of these.

I share these wedding reflections because we have much to learn from our experiences within marriage and within all of our important relationships. Even when a marriage fails, it mirrors the journeys on this earth which will take us home to God. We fall in love with our seemingly ideal partner with the expectation of a successful relationship. Because we are human, we meet many obstacles along the way. When we encounter rocks on our paths, forks in the road and washed away bridges, we recalculate our route and carry on. We will never get anywhere in our relationships or on our journeys if we fail to reassess, regroup and try again along the way. Even when our renewed efforts require us to walk away from a relationship, they contribute to our progress. It seems to me that this is the point of most of what Jesus has to say about life on this earth and about God’s love for us.

Matthew’s gospel (21:28-32) reports another of Jesus’ parables. On this occasion, Jesus spoke of a vineyard owner with two sons. One day, the man asked the first to work his vineyard. This son refused, but later had a change of heart. He went out to the vineyard and did as his father asked. When the man asked his second son to work, the young man immediately agreed to do so. However, this son never lifted a finger. Jesus asked those listening which young man did his father’s will. All who were present agreed that the son who worked was the righteous one, in spite of his initial response. Ah, “in spite of his initial response!” Jesus recognized that failure at one time or another is inevitable. Jesus also recognized that our opportunity to turn things around is also inevitable. When Jesus remarked that tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom of heaven, he was not condoning their sinfulness. Rather, he condoned what they did after they engaged in this wrong-doing. In spite of their sketchy pasts, the tax collectors and prostitutes took Jesus’ message to heart. They reassessed, regrouped and tried again. Jesus promised that similar effort by the rest of us will be rewarded as well.

I admit that I haven’t minded being a part of Wedding Central 2014. Though the good deacon bears the brunt of the paperwork, marriage prep and wedding rehearsals, we share the joy and the hope which come with witnessing the commitments of these couples. When they promise their love for a lifetime, they also pledge to reassess, regroup and try again when they fail. Like Jesus’ parable, these couples remind us that this is all any of us can hope for: To do our best, to acknowledge our errors, to make amends when we fail, and to know, regardless of how often we repeat this process, that God loves us. Yes, even when we fail, God loves us.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Another Chance

The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
From Genesis 3:1-8

The treasures I recall from my childhood include two family bibles. The first is a single volume in which our family tree and significant events were recorded. The second consisted of cardboard front and back covers which held together several separate booklets which arrived in the mail periodically. With each new booklet, my mom carefully removed the bible’s cardboard cover, inserted the new booklet, and replaced the cover. Afterward, my sisters and I poured over this newest addition, every page adorned with colorful pictures. When we were finished, I always returned to the first book’s story of Adam and Eve, the snake and that forbidden tree. Eden looked amazing to me, at least as grand as heaven. “Why,” I often asked myself, “would Adam and Eve turn away from God who gave them so much?”

Life in this topsy-turvy world of ours answers that question every day, doesn’t it? It’s lucky for us that God never returns the favor when we walk away. God simply waits -with arms outstretched- for our return.

Generous God, thank You for the blessing of second and third and twenty-ninth chances which you offered us day in and day out. Give me the wisdom to accept every chance you give me to start anew.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved