What’s That Smell?
By: Major A. Kenneth Wilson
According to behavioral scientists, the sense of smell is one of the most powerful memory agents in the brain, creating neural pathways to index thoughts to be recalled in precise detail decades later. Some scents create a wonderful sense of well–being bringing back thoughts of family and good times—lasagna, baking bread, apple pie, the cologne of your love—while others are not as agreeable. If you have ever been to a mushroom farm, you will never forget that one.
Scripture speaks of sensory data of blessing and life when Jesus returned to Bethany after raising Lazarus from the dead. According to John chapter 16, six days before the Passover, Jesus returned to the home of Mary, Martha and the alive and kicking Lazarus. It was almost time for the Passover, and Jesus was getting ready to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem
But there was a brief lull to enjoy the company of dear friends one more time. At some point, Mary came into the room to anoint Jesus with an expensive ointment priced far beyond luxury. She opened a pint of nard in an alabaster box and broke it open. Pouring out the whole thing, because the box had no means of resealing, there was no going back if you changed your mind. Scripture says that the ointment was worth a years’ wages likely as one of the family’s chief assets. In this case, only the best would be sufficient. Had Mary owned a couple more jars, she probably would have used them too.
Mary poured the ointment on Jesus’ feet and wiped off the excess with her hair perhaps mixing it with her tears. Scripture says that the whole house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas was riled by the apparent waste of money saying, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” (12:4). But Judas did not care a bit about the poor, for as keeper of the disciples’ funds, he could have wanted the money for himself.
Jesus silenced all the snide comments saying, “Leave her alone. It was meant that she should save this perfume for My burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me” (7). Mary “gave her roses before the funeral” so they could be enjoyed instead of just being a cold tribute. Yet even then as Jesus remembered His mission, could He catch a whiff of the stink of sin that He would have to face in just a few short days?
Scripture contrasts Jesus and His people. “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other the fragrance of life” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).
To those desperate to forsake sin, the kind witness of a true believer is a sweet smell of perfume amid the world’s putridness. Yet, to those who are reeking of the cheap cologne of self– righteousness, the smell speaks of death—their own. To those being saved it is a fresh breath of life. To those content to remain lost and condemned, it is the first whiff of Hell itself.
What’s your smell? Is it life or death? What fragrance will you leave behind—grace, kindness, love? It all depends on whether you accept life in Christ or refuse it—to live in Christ or remain among the walking dead. You choose.