Saturday, June 13, 2009

What's That Smell?

Let's face it.

No one wants to smell bad.

Even our 2 year-old, if he manages to sneak into Mom & Dad's bathroom, can be found applying Old Spice High Endurance to his stomach. He's got the right idea, anyway.

Like it or not, people make judgments about other people on the basis of any noticeable smell, whether pleasant or unpleasant. The right perfume or cologne may be intoxicating, but any failure to prevent unpleasant odor is, well...

One summer when I worked at a university bookstore, there was a customer who entered the store almost every day, and carried with him a cloud of the most staggering stink you ever smelled. Seriously. It buckled the knees. It lingered in the air after the man left the room. I am not exaggerating when I say this guy gave me a headache.

Looking back, I have to admit there was a character/personality profile I imagined about this poor man, based on nothing more than this unfortunate problem. I never once spoke to him, never even allowed myself to be close to him. I avoided him and made fun of him with my co-workers, and that was about it. I decided in my mind that this guy was either unsanitary, inconsiderate, or simply oblivious.

But one random day it was different. The smelly man entered the store and didn't smell anymore. Something had changed, but I never found out what. Had someone spoken
to him? Helped him? Befriended him? Had he been painfully aware of the offense all along, but lacked the resources to remedy the problem, until that day? (Of course, he was book-shopping, so one would assume he had some money.)

In any case, however it happened, the fog had lifted, the odor was gone, and the man's presence no longer caused offense. I was uneasy with the realization that I was only then willing to deal with this man.

Makes you wonder how some of the people Jesus dealt with smelled. A group of fishermen after a long night on the water? Sowers who scattered seed by hand? Impoverished people without the luxury of concern over appearances?

Besides physical smell, many people Jesus interacted with bore the stench of the condemnation of their community: Lepers, Lunatics, Prostitutes, Tax Collectors, and ultimately, two thieves.

What made Jesus different was his willingness to engage humanity right where it was, however it looked, however it smelled, whatever anyone thought.

How interesting, then, that the analogy of fragrance is used to describe the effect the people of God are supposed to have on their surroundings:

"We are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing." -- 2 Corinthians 2:15

We smell like Him. If He is really in us, we smell like Him. People can tell when we're near. They notice it. It surrounds us, and lingers in the air after we leave.

So, is it a nice smell?

Well, that all depends. You might say it's in the nose of the smeller.

"To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life." -- 2 Corinthians 2:16

What a person thinks of Jesus will determine what he thinks of how a Christian smells. Not everyone likes Him. Not everyone appreciates His fragrance. And, if you choose to wear it, not everyone will appreciate you.

Do you trust Him enough to wear His fragrance and let others think what they will?

"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you." -- John 15:18

Consider how self-conscious we all are about odor, and the measures we take to prevent it. Few among us would dare expose the public to our own natural scent.

Jesus has a scent all His own.

What then? Will we wash it away, mask it, prevent it? Or trust it to have its effect, knowing it's not about us anyway?

Considering all this, and looking back on the smelly man in the bookstore, the clear question that comes to mind is:

Did I actually smell worse than he did?