God Seeks the Lowest Places

Douglas McManaman
Homily: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 26, 2020
Reproduced with Permission

The basic theme of these readings (Zep 2:3; 3:12-13; 1 Cor 1:26-31; Mt 5:1-12) is "seek". In the first reading, the command is to "seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, you who have observed his law. Seek justice, seek humility". Why seek humility? The reason is that God is like water, and water always seeks the lowest place. Water typically comes from above, and so it descends; you have a leak in the roof or a broken water pipe, the water goes down and soon the basement is flooded. Water, which is the most powerful force in nature, always seeks the lowest place. And God, who is all powerful, is like water, which is why the new life of grace that is given in baptism is symbolized by water. God is always found in the lowest places, and the truly humble occupy the lowest places. Seek humility because in humility alone will you find Him. In his letter to the Phillipians, Paul says:

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

The most glorious contradiction in Scripture is that our ascent to God only takes place through a descent, towards the lowest place.

In the garden of Eden, after the sin of the first parents, God approaches: "When they heard the sound of the Lord God walking about in the garden ... the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord among the trees". One of the effects of Original Sin is this tendency to flee at the approach of God; for man cannot tolerate the truth about himself. After the first sin, they saw that they were naked and felt shame. Children are fine with walking around naked, and they do so without shame, but the first sin was a rejection of our status as "child" dependent upon God. Man chose to be his own god, independent and sufficient unto himself, and so man's natural tendency now is towards prideful self-sufficiency.

However, the first beatitude in the gospel reading is: Blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs. In other words, blessed are those who recognize their radical need for God, who recognize their own poverty, their own lack. That is the condition for possessing the kingdom of God.

Humility is a strange and interesting virtue. The reason is that so many people think they have it; moreover, you can believe you have it, without having an ounce of it. What is interesting is that the truly humble will not perceive that they have it, because a virtue is a certain kind of excellence, but the truly humble do not for a minute entertain the thought that they possess such excellence. They don't feel it. They don't look at themselves in the spiritual mirror and delight in what they see. The truly humble are empty of any kind of self-satisfaction and complacency. One thing I remember of the pastor who encouraged me to consider the diaconate is the day he said to me: "Don't ever think you've arrived. You never arrive". There was a noticeable change in his demeanor when he said it. The delightful feeling that I have arrived, that I am a fit vessel for the Lord to dwell in is really the sin of Phariseeism, and that foreshadows a great fall that is just around the corner.

The Lord seeks a place to rest his head, and only souls that are empty enough of that complacent love of self have room for the Lord, but they don't know it. They have no clue that the Lord has made His dwelling within them. We know this from the parable of the Last Judgment: "When, Lord, did we see you naked and clothe you, hungry and feed you, sick and in prison and visit you?" As long as you did this to the least of my brethren, you did it to me, because God seeks to rest in the least and lowest.

But God is good to us. He does not allow us to remain in the darkness of self-delusion for very long. In His providence, circumstances will be arranged in such a way throughout our lives, before the time of our death, that will help us to acquire that humility that we may mistakenly believe we already possess, and these circumstances always help bring us to an awareness of our profound cognitive limitations, our radical dependency on others and on God, our own blindness, delusions, and the selfishness which we often disguise as virtue. The good news is that if and when we begin to feel as if we have not an ounce of holiness and virtue, we are in a place where God can be found, because, like water, He always seeks the lowest place.