The Immense Poverty of God

Christ with the sick around Him, Rembrandt

What an immensity of poverty God possesses. Not the poverty that cripples and overwhelms the human being. There is a poverty born of strength and the poverty born of oppression. We experience a scarcity that drives us toward the will to power and dominance of one another. It is our fear of scarcity that empties the grocery store shelves. And for human history has led men of power to trample down their brothers.

But look at the tremendous poverty of God. Christ created all things and holds them in being. He breathes life into each one of us. And yet he allows us to forget him. Imagine this one staggering idea, we can actually seek God. Unlike the other creatures of this earth who give their whole being to creation and its creator, we so often turn away in apathy or the pursuit of material goods. The one whose immensity expands the universe does not insinuate his will so invasively upon us that we cannot leave him behind, abandon and forget him as we all have done at one time or another.

St. John Paul II, speaking to the people of Poland under Communist domination, once said, “Is it possible to dismiss Christ and everything which he brought into the annals of the human being? Of course it is possible. The human being is free. The human being can say to God, ‘No.’ The human being can say to Christ, ‘No.’ But the critical question is: Should he?And in the name of what ‘should’ he? With what argument, what reasoning, what value held by the will or the heart does one bring oneself, one’s loved ones, one’s countrymen and nation to reject, to say No to Him with whom we have all lived for one thousand years? He who formed the basis of our identity and has Himself remained its basis ever since…”

So many abandoned God, that day on Golgotha as he gave his life for our sake. Little has changed in the days since. But today the tomb is broken open. Our Easter Gospel recounts, “On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark.” (Jn 20:1) It is still dark here, we can not see what is to come but something is out of place, we like Mary see “the stone removed from the tomb.” Many of us feel afraid, disjointed. Our lives have been shaken in a way we could not foresee and unlike the moment when the hand of God reached out to us, this moment fills us will foreboding. Christ, the poor king, the one who utterly emptied himself allowed himself to be abandoned, cast into the dark of death. Now we have followed.

Yet he is so very different from us. If I were God I would never allow myself to be abandoned or forgotten. I would impress myself upon every human consciences so thoroughly no one could ever forget. What tiresome gods we would each make. Our insatiable need to be noticed, validated, loved, adored. Christ desires only to give. He is perfect love which is in turn perfect poverty. That is the magnetism of his presence that eventually draws us back. True poverty of spirit can never be forgotten, it requires nothing but our acceptance.

Mary waited by the tomb and Jesus came, she could not see him. He was hidden to her sight as he was to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Maybe we are terrified that he is gone. Have we seen the decline of the Church? The Church has become his corpse and now this is the final desecration. A voice in our hearts says this, you have been abandoned. How easy this would be to believe. Until the first turn. “She turned around,” St. John tells us, “and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus.” (Jn 20:14) We turn as Mary did when she first saw the risen Christ. She did not recognize him but her whole being was draw to him. This is the first conversion, our minds and bodies recognize that he is there. We must remember. It does no good for us to be bludgeoned into submission by a rain of fire or lightening. Our submission to the Infinite One must come from a heart filled with wonder that kneels in longing not in terror. 

We turn back in remembrance of that first breath of air that was the presence of God. It literally moved us. Our lives have been moved now, against our will. Moved to silence and awareness of the poverty of human existence without God. For some of us this seems like a blessing and for some a curse but we can be assured that for all of us it is the hand of God. This is when the turning of heart comes. At the voice of God the heart spins round of its own volition. “Mary!” Jesus says to her. He calls us each by name and our heart leaps in recognition, we wake from the darkness as the Easter dawn breaks in upon us. In that call all else is forgotten, the worldly cares, the fears and anxieties. Even death itself is left behind, a mere triviality, as we embrace the poverty of spirit which is the abundant love of God. 

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