Thieves and Lovers of the Common Purse – A Sermon on John 12:1-8

The collect and readings for this Sunday, the Fifth Sunday in Lent, may be found here. The appointed gospel is John 12:1-8.

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Her name was Bernice. She was my maternal grandmother. My sister and I, however, called her Bum Bum. One of my strongest memories of Bum Bum is her smell. It filled her house. It was uniquely her. We loved her smell; so much so that after she would leave from visiting us my sister and I would argue over who got her pillow for the next couple of days. I think of her now and am greeted by that familiar smell.

I now realize that her smell, the memories, the attraction are not about the perfume she wore but rather, about the life she lived. Her life fragranced our lives with love, kindness, goodness, laughter, devotion, and hands that never seemed to tire of rubbing little backs. She added to the common purse, the treasury from which we all draw our life and being.

The common purse supports, sustains, nourishes, and gives life to us and the community in which we live. It is the source of life, love, devotion, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, goodness, wisdom, beauty, generosity, intimacy. The common purse is not a money box; it is God incarnate. Jesus is the true common purse, open and available to all.

Sometimes we approach the common purse, like Judas, as its keeper. When we do so we take from the common purse.  Keepers live from a place of fear, betrayal, emptiness, self-centeredness. In order for keepers to win someone else must lose. As keepers our attitude says not only is there not enough but that we are not enough.

Other times we approach like Mary, as the lover of the common purse, and we give. We live from a place of abundance knowing that no matter how much we give we will never run out. Lovers are willing to risk it all. Cost is not counted and nothing is held in reserve. Nothing is too good for our beloved; only the best will do.

We cannot, however, simply divide the world into the keepers and the lovers. There is a sense in which both Judas and Mary live within us. We are both thieves and lovers of the common purse. The possibility of either taking from or adding to the common purse stands before each moment of our life. Our work is to more and more live as lovers of the common purse, to pour out all that we are and all that we have, to be extravagant, unreasonable, even wasteful in loving. When we do that we fragrance the entire world.

1 comment

  1. The ofactory memory is the deepest and most enduring. It is located in the hypothalmus…the reptilian part of the brain. My earliest memory is not an image, a sound… it is the smell of bread….the breadbox in my grandmother’s kitchen. It was the fragrance of love, comfort, safety, and compassion.
    Thanks for reminding me of that memory.


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