Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus is a perplexing one, to be sure. But in the light of Easter, we can see that Jesus was proclaiming that God is doing something new. Not only that, but God wants us all to be part of that new thing. Addressing Nicodemus, Jesus said that the old ways of worshipping and living were no longer sufficient, and really no longer needed. God was looking not just for people’s obedience, but also, mostly, for their hearts.
We see those hearts at work in the early Christian community. The reading from Acts this morning tells us that the believers cared for one another deeply, and were generous in that care. “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” They were even selling their possessions to give to those who were in need. Nobody felt needy, nobody felt cheated, nobody felt like they were doing more than their share. People were worshipping not just with their minds, but also with their hearts, and their worshipping didn’t stop when they left the worship place.
So the same has to be true for us, really. We have to be willing to give of our hearts, to believe not just when we’re in church, but also when we are in the rest of our life. We have to trust God to take care of us when we stick our neck out to help someone else. We have to trust that even when we are doing more than other people are, God will take care of the equity of it all and never be outdone in generosity. We have to worship not just with our minds but also with our hearts.
There are two things going on in today’s Scripture readings. First, we have the Jews, and now Judas among them, who are very jealous of Jesus and are seeking to arrest and kill him. And not just him, but anyone who encourages people to believe in him, like Lazarus in today’s Gospel. In these holy days, it’s not safe to be around Jesus.
Second, we have Mary, who pours out the most expensive thing she has for love of the Lord. She gives no thought to the expense, to what seems like waste, but instead gives it all out of love for her Lord.
For Jesus’ enemies, it was all about them, and not at all about the God they supposedly believed in and served. But for Mary, it’s about Jesus, and she understands in some way where this is all headed.
So we have the jealousy of the Jews and the cowardice of Judas against the love and generosity and even courage of Mary. In these Holy days, we are called to be Mary, to courageously pour ourselves out in love and generosity, even when the jealousy of the world around us would try to make us feel like it’s best we didn’t make waves.
Today Tobit finds out that charity begins at home. All his noble deeds of burying the dead are worth nothing if he does not know how to honor the living who are with him. The blindness he develops in today’s first reading is really on two counts. First, and most obviously, there is the physical blindness caused by the cataracts and the doctors’ treatments. But second, and perhaps more seriously, there is the blindness that is caused by cataracts of the heart. His physical blindness is beginning to embitter him, and he cannot “see” past his own suffering to see that others may be hurting too. He doesn’t even take time to listen to his wife, who has been laboring faithfully to support the family during his disability.
The Pharisees and Herodians in today’s Gospel had their own kind of blindness. They wanted to trap Jesus into being either a tax evader or an idolater. If he said don’t pay the census tax, he was an anarchist. If he said pay it, he was blasphemous. But Jesus isn’t going to fall for that. He sees that their blindness is a lack of generosity. Giving Caesar what belongs to Caesar is easy. The hard part is giving to God what belongs to God. That requires true generosity, a willingness to reach out to the poor and needy, a desire for union with God that requires prayer to burst forth into service.
If we would be people of the Gospel, we need to break free of the blindness that sometimes overwhelms us. We have to see past our own needs, and perhaps past our own suffering, to see the needs of those around us. We need to see past getting caught up in trivialities and instead open ourselves up in generosity to our God who is the most generous of all. We need to be the kind of people our Psalmist sings of today: “Lavishly he gives to the poor; his generosity shall endure forever…”