Why Not Now?

They carried to him all those afflicted
with various diseases and racked with pain…
He cured them all.

From Matthew 4:24

My sister and I attended a family baby shower last weekend. Seeing our extended family elicited fond memories of our parents, grandparents and siblings who’ve passed. Though I’m certain of their current bliss, the sting of these losses remains with me. I can still recall the details of their last days among us.

When the people we love are sick, it’s difficult to see God’s hand in their suffering. When depression, addiction or a misguided heart brings them pain, we wonder why this occurs. When their days are numbered, the inevitable isn’t easy to accept. When we recall the healing powers of Jesus, we’re tempted to ask “Why not now?”

When I ponder this and similar questions, I consider Jesus’ experience as one of us. He struggled with trials and tribulations just as we do. If that wasn’t enough, he was nailed to a cross as well. Was Jesus capable of doing all of this because he knew what was coming afterward? I admit that I also know of the things to come. If I’m honest with myself, I must admit that this should be enough to see me through. Our loved ones in the hereafter tell us again and again that this is so. It’s time I listen!

Dear God, when the going gets rough, nudge us along with reminders of the things to come.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

Always In Good Company

I am the Lord, your God,
who takes hold of your right hand,
calming your fears.

Isaiah 41:13

My husband and his friend share similar foot pain. Year’s ago, Mike endured a battery of tests which he hoped would reveal the cause and a treatment plan. Much to his dismay, the results were inconclusive. A few weeks ago, Mike’s buddy endured even more extensive tests to determine the same. If his friend received any new information, my husband planned to look further into his own situation.

Much to their dismay, Mike’s friend’s tests revealed no new information. Like my husband, he’ll simply have to deal with the discomfort as best he can. I have to add that neither of these men are complainers though at times “simply” dealing with their pain isn’t easy. They know many others who have far greater health concerns and both are grateful that their situations aren’t worse. When they experience “bad foot days”, they simply bide their time until the pain lessens and then move on.

As I consider the practical approach Mike and his buddy have taken to their pain, I must acknowledge my admiration for both of them. My own experiences have taught me that our pain is our pain whether or not it is greater than someone else’s. The good news in all of this is that we never endure our pain alone. God promises to be with us in everything. Regardless of our position on the “pain scale”, God is with us through it all.

Compassionate God, make your presence known today. Allow those who are suffering to see you at their sides.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Easter Blessings

When I turned to John’s gospel (John 20:1-9) in preparation for this writing, my eyes filled up as I read: On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark… “Of course she did,” I told myself. A lifetime of devotion prompted this remark regarding Mary Magdalene’s behavior that first Easter morning. When my husband and I considered a possible trip to Israel, it was Magdala’s place on the itinerary which compelled me to embrace this opportunity. I couldn’t imagine a better way to become more closely acquainted with my childhood hero.

In Israel, when we disembarked from our bus in Magdala, I wasn’t disappointed. I quickly learned that this little town boasted an excellent economy in Jesus’ day. The booming fishing industry paved the way for a variety of merchants and artisans who occupied numerous shops in the marketplace. Nearby homes rested along streets arranged in grid-like fashion much like our own. Magdala’s close proximity to Nazareth likely enticed Jesus to begin his ministry there. I couldn’t hide my amazement as I looked upon the ruins of the synagogue where Jesus frequently taught. Perhaps Mary Magdalene had met Jesus there.

Scripture scholars tell us that Mary Magdalene was a woman of means who suffered from a serious illness. At the time, such afflictions were assumed to be caused by the sinfulness of their victims or by demons. That Mary maintained her stature and wealth in the midst of her suffering is a testament to her strong character. Though we don’t know the circumstances, Mary and Jesus met in Magdala and Jesus cured her. Perhaps Mary had heard enough about Jesus to lay her troubles at his feet and to trust in his intervention. Perhaps Jesus sought out the suffering Mary just as he sought out those in pain throughout his ministry. Whatever the circumstances, this encounter resulted in a lifelong friendship and Mary’s deep faith in Jesus. Mary responded by immersing herself in Jesus’ work and investing her resources in providing for Jesus’ and his disciples’ material needs.

I share all of this today because I think it was fitting that Mary Magdalene approached Jesus’ tomb so early that first Easter morning. The families of those who died visited their loved ones’ tombs three days after burial and, to Mary, Jesus was family. My visit to Magdala increased my understanding of this remarkable relationship. This encounter also revealed Mary Magdalene’s deep connection to us. Scriptures scholars call Mary an avid believer and perhaps Jesus’ closest follower. Mary Magdalene didn’t become a woman of means by hiding in the shadows. Mary’s bravery and devotion impelled her to do everything she did, including remaining with Jesus when rumblings of discontent filled the air around him. Our subsequent visit to the Upper Room in Jerusalem and a nearby church put everything into perspective for me. That room where Jesus ate his last supper induced a smile over all that Jesus had shared there. It also prompted my tears as I recalled all that followed. The nearby church featured a life-size sculpture of The Last Supper. Because this image drew me in, it took a moment for me to see the lone figure nestled in the shadows a few feet away. Mary Magdalene stood silently as Jesus extended his greatest gift to his unwitting disciples, to her and to us all.

This Easter morning, I find great hope for us in Mary Magdalene’s relationship with Jesus. I think Mary would tell us that she was as flawed as the rest of us when she walked with Jesus. Still, Jesus loved her. It was this love which gave Mary the strength to remain with Jesus throughout his ministry and as he endured those long hours on the cross. Whenever you and I ignore the rumblings around us and set aside our own troubles to care for others, we do what Mary Magdalene did for Jesus. At the same time, Jesus does the same for us. Jesus brings us strength and his assurance that we are never alone.

My experience in Israel enriched my relationship with Mary Magdalene. More importantly, it nurtured my love for Jesus. With every step, I embraced Jesus’ path more fully. With every step, Jesus embraced me with the same friendship and love he offered his friend Mary so long ago. The compassion and unconditional love Mary Magdalene enjoyed two millenniums ago are yours as well, today and always. What better reason is there for us all to enjoy a most happy and blessed Easter?

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What Was He Thinking?

As I prepare for Holy Week, images from my trip to Israel fill me up. While there, that wonderful and troubled country truly became holy land to me. It was impossible to sail the Sea of Galilee of Galilee without imagining Jesus in a small boat filled with his best friends. It was impossible to walk through Nazareth and Capernaum and up the Mount of the Beatitudes without sensing Jesus’ presence. The little boy who once played among what are now ruins grew into the man who saved his friends embarrassment by providing a bit of wine at their wedding. The same man who wept in the Garden of Gethsemane saved the rest of us from wretched lives by revealing God’s love for us in everything he said and did. If Jesus had done no more, this would have been enough. When I looked over the ancient city of Jerusalem, I repeated the question I’d asked so often during this trip: “What were you thinking, Jesus?” Though I cannot pretend to know Jesus’ thoughts, he seems to answer just the same…

Judas cautions me, “Beware!” I know Judas wrestles with himself over what has become of my work. He smiles when the crowds gather to see me. “Approachability is an asset,” Judas says. “It endears you to the people.” Still, Judas worries because I alienate others who might be helpful one day. I spend too much time with outcasts –the poor, the sick, the sinful. Poor dear Judas, don’t you realize that these are the ones for whom I have come? Judas is particularly agitated today because things aren’t going according to his plan. Though the crowds wave palms and praise my name, Judas tells me that I must beware. Rumblings of discontent fill the air. This mule carries me across a path of olive branches and capes, while the temple hierarchy mumble condemnations against me. Judas considers his options at this very moment. If things continue as they are, he will execute his plan. Yes, Father, he will execute his plan. Peter, John, Thomas and the others dismiss their suspicions as they lose themselves in this revelry. Father, they cannot imagine what is to come. Only you and I know what is in store as I make my way into Jerusalem.

As I look back, my battle with evil in the desert seems a distant dream. Not so my trip up the mountainside with Peter, James and John. My muscles relax for a moment as I offer a smile to the crowd. Your Presence fills me up and once again I am transformed within. I know I will endure. One woman who chants, “Hosanna!” looks much like the woman at Jacob’s well. I will always cherish the moment her heart caught fire and she saw you within me. She continues to live in your name, Father. Bless her with strength for the journey. The man who now sees is another witness to your glory. Not a day goes by that he does not repeat the tale of his journey into the light. This one understands, Father, for he lived in physical darkness and the darkness of isolation. He will see to it that every one you place in his path is given a glimpse of you. He cannot help himself, Father, because he is on fire with love for you. I am blessed with so many reminders of your love. Mary, Martha and Lazarus made their home my own, just as they make a home for me in their hearts. When it was most difficult to understand, Mary and Martha held onto hope and believed. What joy will be theirs when they are home with us! Now, Jerusalem welcomes me, Father, and so it begins. When the darkness seems impenetrable, light their way, Father. When the darkness closes in and I can do no more, Father, light my way…

No, I cannot pretend to know Jesus’ thoughts as the crowd cheered him into Jerusalem. I can only turn to the words and deeds which brought Jesus to that moment in time to gain some understanding of these events. This one who rode into Jerusalem amidst the crowd who would make him king arrived not many years earlier in a stable. This one who struck fear in the scribes and Pharisees grew into manhood among Nazareth’s poor. With an unshakable commitment to his mission and to us, this one loved us enough to embrace the cross.

All if his life, Jesus insisted that God remains steadfast in loving every one of us. Jesus gathered a motley crew of followers who resemble you and me at our best and at our worst. Through everything he said and did, Jesus taught these disciples and all who would listen how deeply God loves them and how important it is that they pay this blessing forward by loving one another. This Holy Week 2017, our homes and neighborhoods, our workplaces, schools and this church become holy land because it is in these places that Jesus repeats these lessons for us all. It is in these places that we get to know Jesus best.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We’re Family

There were also women present looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome. These women had followed Jesus when he was in Galilee and attended to his needs.
Mark 15:40-41

It is evident to scripture scholars that both Peter and Mary Magdalene traveled with Jesus throughout his ministry. The groups traveled together, while Peter led the male cohort and Mary led the woman. The gospels are filled with references to the men, especially The Twelve who were Jesus’ closest friends. There is no mention of Mary Magdalene and most of the other woman until Jesus’ crucifixion.

In Jesus’ day, women were of minimal value in the public sector. It is to Mary Magdalene’s credit that she managed her own affairs. Many women left as widows or who were alone and childless lived in dire poverty. In the Jewish community, the rare woman boasted political power. Spiritually, women were ostracized during their menstrual cycles and after childbirth. They regained their standing only after they were cleansed in the temple. Still, none of this kept Mary and her friends from Jesus as he hanged on the cross. Though they were likely not allowed to come to the foot of the cross, they were there.

Each one of us has suffered injustice, prejudice, ridicule and worse as a result of a quality over which we have little or no control. How often we have been devalued by others in spite of God’s propensity to call each one of us son or daughter! It’s time to recognize the world-full of brothers and sisters God has given us.

Loving God, help me to see my sisters and brothers as you do.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved