Love Always Seeks The Lowest Places
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We begin a new series for November entitled, A World Beyond. The Church gathers on Nov. 1st to celebrate all its saints, named and unnamed, and on Nov. 2nd to celebrate and pray for All Souls who have fallen asleep in the Lord since last Nov. 2nd, and to contemplate in this month last things: heaven, hell, judgment, purgatory. I remember when my father died on Oct. 28, 1993 I was happy to know that he would have the prayers of the whole Church to help him to see God right away.
We continue with the gospel of Matthew (23: 1-12) as these last weeks of the year come to a close. Matthew is not only concerned with the historical religious leaders at that time and their battles with Jesus Christ but he records this gospel because self-serving religiosity can be found any where. He uses these circumstances to help all of us not to twist faith and its practices into a tool of human arrogance, greed and exploitation.
We cannot fail to remind ourselves that most of the characters in the gospel story are Jewish and the Jewish experience of God and faith is the prototype of every man and woman. We can find our history in the biblical history of the Jews and of the early Church. Matthew is reminding all of us that “Pharisaical” piety that is self-righteous and self-serving is a very harmful tendency that exists also today. The great sin of the Pharisees is their hypocrisy and the divorce of what they say and what they do. So Jesus advises, “Practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do, for they preach, but do not practice.” Jesus always is ready to convert them and us and not condemn those who are sick.
It is ironic that the Pharisees sit in the seat of Moses who is the opposite of them. Moses is a humble servant who did not think himself worthy to be a spokesman for the people. He told God that he chose the wrong guy. The Pharisees don’t see their hypocrisy; they are blind to who they are.
God wants to make his people free. He delivers them from the bondage of Egypt and of sin. He promises them a spacious land overflowing with milk and honey. The Pharisees on the other hand sound like the Pharaoh of Egypt. Do your work even without straw! The Jews are worse off than they were in Egypt. Now it is Jews tyrannizing Jews. Even the best of men will enslave his fellow men, perhaps in subtle ways, but they will still be under his yoke. Jesus Christ is the only one who can liberate you and me permanently, efficaciously. He says, “Come to me all you who labor and find life tiresome. I will give you rest.” I will take your burden; you no longer have to carry it. You can also do the same for others.
The final verse of the gospel ends with the quintessential paradox that overturns all human social values and shows the true nature of God. Jesus says, “Whoever is the greatest among you will be your servant, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” In Christ the highest becomes the lowest out of love. Christ reigns by serving. For a Christian the only way up is to go down. This is not because a Christian likes to grovel but because love is the heart of a Christian; love always seeks the lowest places. Love puts the beloved ahead of itself and gravitates to the neediest. Love is not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way, says St. Paul.
A Christian glories in his weakness, not out of sadism but knowing that God acts when he sees one’s poverty and weakness. Embrace humiliation willingly for God’s sake. Then he will raise you up. When you are humbled for the sake of the Gospel you will be raised up, you will be exalted.