The Stench of Conflict, The Scent of Reconciliation
It's no secret that we are incarnate beings, literally "in the flesh." We are our bodies, and that body lives in a world of which it must be mindful, for sustenance, for safety, for the conservation of life itself. With our bodies, interaction with the world is based on the input we receive through our senses. We know the world because we can see, hear, touch, taste....and smell what is going on around us. That knowledge that comes through our senses? It is the most basic need in life. It informs us that we are safe, or in peril. It orients us to our surroundings and lets us know if we need to be on guard, or that we can relax.
Ponder for a moment how much our senses inform us, and how one sensation can create awareness beyond that one, involved sense: "I see your point;" "I feel you;" "Something stinks around here."
That last example catches at me today, in light of the readings. Paul is writing to the Corinthians, and uses a set of images that provoked this line of thought, in that he likened his actions in Christ to an aroma being experienced in two different ways by people based on their state of grace. To those who are struggling in sin, his mission reeks of the corruption of death and dying. Smelling that, people of course will recoil. They will, sensibly, pull away from his preaching as if it were death itself. For those who have found themselves in grace, whose know reconciliation in Christ? That scent is, as my translation notes, "like the fountain of life to those who are being saved."
It's a strange thing to see, how the acknowledged truth that what can be sweet perfume to one can be perceived as rank and foul to another, can be translated to how we can disagree on accepting preaching like Paul's. He struggles to preach Christ, and to those who know Christ, it smells "good." To others...it stinks.
Our task in this is not to condemn the people who don't "get it" and smell the good smell of truth and light in Christ. Nor is it to condemn the folks who reject that truth and light because to them it reeks of corruption.
Rather, I believe it is to look deeply into our own interactions with the world, through all our senses, learning and discerning why something smells, tastes, sounds, appears, feels right or wrong to us. From Paul...a smell is a smell. The scent of the light of Christ doesn't change, but our perception of it does. If we are willing to state with humble self-awareness why something stinks or smells good to us...then we are on the way to opening our mind to the wonder of God at work in the world around us.
Not easy...particularly when the smell of something causes our mind and heart to recoil. What makes us alive in Christ is that we don't just turn and run without reason, but are intentional about seeking understanding first and then forming a prayerful, faithful, more enlightened choice....