The Nails

There they crucified him…
From John 19:18

While in the Holy Land, our guide Yossi had surprised us with something he had in his pocket. This surprise was heart-wrenching. Yossi produced an old nail which an artisan friend had cleaned for him. Yossi told us, “This is similar to what the Romans used to nail Jesus to the cross.” Though I’d imagined those nails a thousand times, seeing this nail in Jerusalem sent chills up my spine.

I’ve never gotten over the nails. Accounts which describe crucifixion reference the use of nails or ropes or both. The intent was to lengthen the duration of the victim’s suffering as much as possible. The image of one human being driving a nail into the wrist or the foot of another is unimaginable to me. How could we have regressed to this level of cruelty? I can’t get over the nails because they were used on the one person whose entire life spoke of love, acceptance, forgiveness and mercy…

The scriptures tell us that, while those nails held Jesus to the cross, he continued to care for those he was given to love. One of the men crucified with him asked Jesus to remember him when he entered into his kingdom. Jesus responded by promising him a place in Paradise. Jesus also spoke to his mother and his friend John. He gave them to one another to be family to each other after he was gone. Finally, Jesus forgave those who drove those nails into his body. He knew that they had no idea of what they’d done.

Though I will never get over those nails, I will also never get over the realization that I’m loved. There is nothing that I or any of us can do which will stop God from loving us.

Loving God, be with us as we replace every nail in our arsenals with an act of love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


Only A While Longer?

“My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.”
John 13:33

While we were in Israel, I overheard two travelers from another group consoling one another over a friend who was unable to join them for their trip. The person who couldn’t travel with them had been ill and didn’t recover as quickly as they’d hoped. Because these three considered this trip to Israel to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, this turn of events anguished them all. The two who had made it consoled own another with their promise to pray at every holy place they visited for the person they’d unwillingly left behind. Their tone indicated that this illness might be their fellow traveler’s last.

As Holy Week approaches, I imagine conversations regarding Jesus’ situation among his friends. I suppose none of them were anxious to return to Jerusalem with so much uncertainty regarding Jesus’ work. Where would Jesus’ teaching take him? Where would it take them? Was Judas already expressing concern regarding all of this? Were the others happy to follow their teacher or were they struggling with worry as well?

Those fellow travelers found consolation in praying for their sick friend. She would be with them in spirit as they expressed their concern for her to God. The poor disciples weren’t as adept as we are at prayer. Though they had Jesus in their midst, they weren’t certain of what to make of his presence in their lives. Though they’d witnessed so much, they’re weren’t privy to The Big Picture which inspires us along the way.

Loving God, help me to be patient with others and with myself when we puzzle over this life. Help us to remember that you are with us though it all.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A New Perspective

Wait, rather, for the fulfillment of God’s promise,
of which you heard me speak.

From Acts of The Apostles 1:4

Though we never made it to Masada during this second visit to Israel, I’m going to revisit that mountain setting here. Masada is the site of an amazing fortress built sometime between 37 and 31 BCE. Herod, who had been appointed King of Judea by the Romans, oversaw the construction of the complex where he resided. About 75 years after Herod’s death, Jewish rebels took over this refuge. They’d fled Jerusalem after the destruction of the temple and survived there for three years.

Eventually, the Romans surrounded the settlement with catapults and battering rams. When it became apparent that they would be overpowered, the Jewish leaders determined that they would commit suicide rather than allow the Romans to make them slaves or to murder them far more violently. In the end, the men in the group killed their wives and children and themselves. All of this was related by two surviving women whose husbands perhaps thought better of the idea.

For centuries, Masada served as a symbol of heroism for the Jewish people. New recruits inducted into the Israeli Army were taken to Masada to pledge their loyalty to Israel. Recently, however, this has changed. Increasingly violent incidents of terrorism throughout the world have given our Israeli neighbors reason to pause. Their ancestors’ mass suicide resembles these heinous acts far too closely. So it is that soldiers pledge their allegiance elsewhere. Masada is no longer held up to themselves or to their children as a symbol of bravery.

When our guide shared this revised thinking with us, I found him and his fellow Israelis to be quite brave. It isn’t easy to let go of the things which we’ve held dear even when we realize that they no longer serve our best interests. Yes, change can be difficult, but it can also be life-giving.

Dear God, give me the wisdom to know when to hold on and when to let go.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

One Family

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.
From Mark 15:40-41

Scripture scholars tell us 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 women. 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.

Jesus’ contemporaries considered women to be 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 and to love one another accordingly.

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

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Relief from Our Suffering

Though the jetlag lingers a bit, I find myself energized by the prospect of sharing my experiences in the Holy Land with you. Early on our first day together, our guide pointed out that the country he would share with us is as much our homeland as his own. “You know all of these places,” Yossi told us. “Nazareth and Capernaum, Magdala, Cana and Jerusalem are as familiar to you as they are to me. You have heard their names since you were little children.” Throughout the days that followed, I took Yossi’s observation to heart. Every step of the way, I realized more fully that Yossi was absolutely right. I had indeed come home…

When I turned to today’s scripture passages, I imagined Yossi offering one of his enthusiastic narratives. This archaeologist and scholar of biblical religions cited Job, Paul, Peter and Jesus often. I should have taped Yossi’s commentaries because he referenced human suffering quite eloquently. Today’s scripture readings remind us that suffering is a constant in our earthly existence. In the excerpt from the Book of Job (7:1-4, 6-7), Job finds himself the victim of Satan’s folly. Though Job is a just man, God allows Satan to test Job’s faith. Satan creatively sees to it that Job loses his family, his home and his wealth. Job finds no consolation in his friends because they wrongly attribute Job’s misfortune to sinfulness on Job’s part or that of his forefathers. As his circumstances worsen, poor Job makes no secret of his misery. Job grumbles incessantly to the Lord God because he knows God is listening. In the end, it is with great love that God responds. Job lives out what remains of his life at peace with himself and at peace with God’s friendship. Though our guide Yossi who was raised in a socialist Kibbutz claimed not to be able to pray, he reminded us often to do as Job did and to cry out to God for peace in this world.

Saint Paul offers another perspective regarding suffering. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23), Paul tells us that, rather than grousing about his situation, he embraces it. Like Job, Paul experiences a close encounter with God which completely overwhelms him. In response, Paul immerses himself in God’s ways. He goes on to do everything possible to share his perspective with all who will hear him. Paul preaches because he finds it impossible to keep God’s wonder to himself. He knows that the eventual outcome will be everything and more than he hopes for. Though Paul suffers much in the process, he considers his story to have unfolded well, just as Job’s did. It seems that Yossi shares Paul’s conviction. Though Yossi often lamented the political climate in Israel, he always added that he believes peace in his homeland will be a reality one day.

Today’s gospel (Mark 1:29-39) brings me back to the ruins of Peter’s home in Capernaum. It was here Yossi shared that, when one uses the bible as a roadmap, it often leads to archeological finds which confirm the settings of given passages or events. This excerpt begins as Jesus and his friends leave the synagogue in Capernaum. They feel very good about Jesus’ work among the people that day and they walk together to Peter’s house to share a meal. When they arrive, they discover that Peter’s mother-in-law is very ill. Jesus goes to her bedside where he takes her hand and cures her. The woman immediately gets up and prepares a meal for her guests. As I stood above the ruins of Peter’s home, I wondered what Peter’s mother-in-law thought about his friends and their assumptions regarding her culinary handiwork. She must have met their expectations because Peter and the rest were energized enough to usher Jesus off to cure more of the sick. Capernaum is a small town and there isn’t much distance to walk before Jesus encounters those in need. While Jesus spends the day curing and consoling, his efforts take their toll. After spending the night at Peter’s house, Jesus rises much earlier than the others. He goes off to a deserted place to pray. Jesus knows well that this time will truly replenish his spirit. Afterward, Jesus faces another day’s demands by spreading Divine Love along the way. As for Yossi, he didn’t knowingly go off to pray. However, he did frequently lose himself in his music. Though Yossi claimed to play his flute to demonstrate the amazing acoustics of a given site, I think he also replenished his spirit with every note which floated heavenward.

It occurs to me that, though most of us cannot claim to bear burdens equal to those of Job, Paul and Jesus, our burdens are heavy nonetheless. When we remember to turn to God as they did, we find the strength to carry on. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts Yossi shared with me and my fellow travelers was his openness to prayer. Though this self-proclaimed secular Jew could not turn to God with his words, he raised himself to heaven every time he played his flute. Like Job, Paul and Jesus, he reminded us to manage even the most devastating of our suffering by retreating into God’s loving company.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be God’s Rep

They carried to him all those afflicted…
He cured them all.

Matthew 4:24

The realities of winter and my daily routines are settling in. This holiday season brought much joy, but it also brought sorrow to many who suffered difficult losses. Though our routines soften the emotions involved a bit, mourning continues to take its toll. Still others suffer unexpected illnesses and complications which extend their treatment and recovery. There are also those who maintain their physical health, but who suffer injury to their psyches and to their spirits.

When the people we are given to love are burdened in any way, it’s difficult to see God’s hand in their suffering. It is this difficulty which reminds me of my New Year commitment. My intent is to bring the spirit and promise of Christmas into every moment of the New Year 2018. Though none of us can “see” God’s hand in anything, we can bring God’s hand to those who need us. We can bring comforting words or a listening ear. We can bring service by running errands or simply providing our company. We can cook a meal or make a phone call. We can all do something which will ease the suffering around us. Yes, we can be God’s hand in it all!

Faithful God, you trust us to bring your healing love to one another. Be with us in our efforts and please lend us your hand when we falter.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved