As my teenager comes in the door and bounds up the stairs the first thing out of his mouth is, “Do I smell pasta and meatballs?”. The smell is so distinctive he doesn’t really need to ask, but he is excited to confirm that his favorite supper is on the menu. The aroma identified the meal when he first entered the house, long before he got to the kitchen and lifted the lid of the pot.
Our sense of smell is powerful, not just physically but emotionally. Aromas have associations that stir our feelings. A heady scent of lilies in the air speaks the joy of Easter to me; lilacs take me back to finals time on my college campus with all its stress and impatience for summer. Sharp pine fragrances bring visions of Christmases past, complete with family members gathered to exchange gifts. A certain antiseptic smell transports me to hospitals and nursing homes where I have visited loved ones, with echoes of their anxiety and sadness.
So, though it was a somewhat startling question, I understood the meaning when I was asked, “Do you smell like Jesus?” It was posed during training for a mission trip I was being trained for. Those of us gathered at the training were being pressed to consider the “fragrance” we carry with us.
In other words, would the character of Christ come to mind when people spent time with us? Would his tenderness, his compassion, his humility and his love be evident in our words and actions? The apostle Paul used the same metaphor to describe his work to spread the gospel. “Now he(God) uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume.” (2 Corinthians 2:14)
Scents are distinctive – an onion does not smell like a peach. Scents are also difficult to hide or cover up. If you have ever bought a house or a vehicle from a smoker, you know this truth. A fortune’s worth of deodorizers can hardly mask the lingering scent of tobacco. The “perfume” of Christ cannot be counterfeited, at least not for long. People do not have to spend much time with us to know the aroma of our soul.
The only way to spread the fragrance of Christ is to follow him daily as the disciples did. Step by step his ways become our ways. Our heartbeats slowly sync with that of the One who went after the lost sheep. Our actions begin to mirror his decision to wash others’ feet the very evening he faced a brutal arrest and interrogation. As we breathe the air of fellowship with him, there is a whiff of the Savior in the air around us.
A small book in the Old Testament gives another word picture for this principle. When God was sending reassurance to the scattered Israelites, he promised a renewal for Jerusalem. Not just a return to prosperity and power, but as a destination for people seeking God. In the words of the prophet Zechariah “In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.'” (8:23)
In other words, people would take hold of them, trying to hitch a ride to the presence of God. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? My desire is to become someone that people will grasp, hoping that a little of God will rub off. I want to ‘smell like Jesus’!