Nineteenth Sunday: A Fragrant Aroma
In today’s second reading, from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, we heard that Jesus handed himself over for us so we could become a fragrant aroma for God.
Now I have heard it said that of all the senses, the one that lingers the deepest in our minds and has the greatest intensity is not sight or sound, but the sense of smell. I really think this is true. Let me give you an example. I know that you might find this hard to believe, but many years ago, cars did not have air conditioning. Well, not unless you call windows air conditioning. I remember when I was a kid driving to New York City from Paterson, NJ, where I grew up. At one point in the hour trip, we would be sure to shut the windows no matter how hot it was. We would rather suffer from the summer heat than smell the odor that came from the fields near Secaucus, NJ. It was a mixture of methane and pig farms. It is impossible to convey to you how horrible it was. I still don’t know how people could live there. I guess they got used to it. That was fifty years ago. The stink is gone now. The fields are now the Meadowland Sports complex. The only stink from there comes from the bad performances of the sports teams. Still that odor is molded into my brain. I’m sure most of you have endured certain stinks that you will never totally erase from your minds.
We have also experienced the opposite, beautiful fragrances that have been ingrained into our memories. Think about the way your house smells on Thanksgiving Day as the bird is cooking. Think about the booths you go by at the State Fair selling all that stuff that will probably kill you but at least insure that you’ll die happy. At this time of year, I always remember the smell of the Jersey shore–salt air from the water and cresol from the boardwalk all blended in with sausage and pepper subs. I can still smell it. It smells like vacation.
A beautiful fragrance, a lasting aroma, that is what we have been called to become in the world. We are called to be an aroma for Christ. We are called to fill the world with His fragrance. Remember how in John 12:3 when Mary of Bethany anointed the feet of Jesus with costly perfume, the house was filled with its fragrance. That is what we are called to do for the world. We are called to anoint the feet of our Lord with the perfume of our lives, and fill the world with the fragrance of Christ.
People who do not know God still long for His fragrance. They cannot bear the stink of the world. They are tired of rolling up the windows of their cars less the stink of old Secaucus overpowers them. They long for the beautiful aroma of Jesus Christ.
We have been given a great commission and a great responsibility. Essentially, we have been called to fill the world with perfume, the sweet fragrance that emerges from the Body of Christ.
The perfume will overcome the stink no matter how putrid the stink might be. That is why we cannot give up filling the world with His fragrance. Yes, we will be tempted to give up as Elijah was tempted to do in today’s first reading. He had enough of the pagan world. He was fleeing into the desert away from the terrible Queen Jezebel. Jezebel had sworn to kill Elijah in retaliation for Elijah’s killing the false prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. And now Elijah was out of food and water. More than that, he just didn’t have the spiritual stamina to continue to do God’s work. He laid down under that broom tree, and he said to God, “Look, I just can’t do this anymore. I’m no better than anyone who has come before me. I just can’t continue your mission to Israel. I can’t do this myself.” And he fell asleep, hoping to die. But the angel of the Lord woke Elijah and gave him food and water. Elijah fell asleep again, and again the angel of the Lord woke Elijah and told him to eat and drink. And, the reading concludes with the nourishment the Lord provided, Elijah walked forty days and forty night to the mountain of God Horeb.
The world needed the aroma of the Lord Elijah was called to provide. Elijah was correct: He could not do God’s work alone. But he was not alone.
Like Elijah in the desert, there are times that all of us feel so spiritually drained that we wonder whether or not we have the stamina to accept and continue the particular mission the Lord has for us. We are all tempted to let the stink overpower the perfume. It takes a tremendous amount of strength and determination to be a good husband or good wife. It is easy to quit, to jump into selfishness. It takes a tremendous amount of strength to be a good parent. It is easy to stop fighting the kids and leave them to their own devices. It is easy to close our eyes and allow our children to play on US 19. It takes a tremendous amount of strength to be a good single. It is easy to join the group that parties on Friday night and wakes up in God knows where on Saturday morning. It takes a tremendous amount of strength to be a good child. It is easy to be like so many of the other kids and be nasty, even rude to parents. It takes a tremendous amount of strength to be a good Teen, in high school or a good young adult in college. It is easy to find ways to drink. It is easy to find ways to experiment with drugs or with sex, all to fit in with a crowd that, in fact, belongs nowhere. It takes a tremendous determination to allow God’s plan to take place. It is easy to let go, even when you are clinging to an eagle that is soaring. In fact, the higher the eagle soars, the farther we fall if we let go. Hold on!
All of us are tempted to give up. All of us often feel drained, like Elijah in the desert. But the Lord stops us from jumping into oblivion. He gives us the ability to complete the work of the Kingdom.
The world does not have to stink. It can be filled with perfume.
It is up to us to be a fragrance for Christ.