The dinner was like many others the disciples had enjoyed. On this occasion they were guests of Lazarus, and all reclined as they ate. Suddenly a strong aroma filled the room. The pleasant smell was produced by expensive ointments. Mary had caused the disruption by anointing Jesus’ feet as he ate. In this act she showed her deep respect and admiration for the Lord. (The incident is described in John 12:1-8.)
Not everyone was pleased with Mary’s act. Judas apparently planted the seeds of discontent, arguing that the perfume should have been sold with the proceeds going to the poor. Jesus, however, commended Mary’s actions. Her actions were a public statement of how one disciple regarded the Son of Man. In the years since, it has led many others to consider ways to demonstrate their own love for Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul draws upon ideas associated with fragrance. He refers to a victory procession, a common scene in the days of the Roman Empire. As soldiers returned from battle, the general led the procession, with soldiers and prisoners following. Incense was burned to draw the attention of bystanders. For those who loved the empire, it was a wonderful smell, representing victory. By that same smell the prisoners following were reminded of their defeat and coming execution.
Paul then applied the idea of fragrance to Christians: “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15, NKJV). The Greek word for “fragrance” is euodia, a word that specifically denotes a pleasant smell. Paul’s use of this image gives us pause for consideration.
First, does it not show that Christians are to have a distinct influence in their communities? The fragrance was not present before, but is a deliberate infusion by God’s people. It demonstrates that we wish to praise our God by our good deeds. Our faith is meant to be noticed for good reasons.
Second, we continue to produce this fragrance even though some regard it as repulsive. Those who watch the news know that atheists are becoming more aggressive and militant Muslims continue denouncing Christ’s followers as infidels. But that does not stop our victory procession. We keep pace with the confident march of our Savior, knowing that our fragrance attracts the attention of onlookers. We are “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16).
We are the fragrance of Christ to a lost and dying world. Let us seek to make the fragrance more noticeable than ever!
Those who try to conceal their Christianity need to hear Paul’s message.