God’s Favorite Smell
“When you present grain as an offering to the LORD, the offering must consist of choice flour. You are to pour olive oil on it, sprinkle it with frankincense, and bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests. The priest will scoop out a handful of the flour moistened with oil, together with all the..."
What is your favorite smell? I'd have a hard time answering this question because there are so many candidates. Freshly cut Christmas trees, the Texas Hill Country after a rain, breading baking in the oven, marshmallows roasting over a campfire . . . it's so hard to choose. (Once, while in New York City during the Christmas season, I was disappointed to discover that I didn't like the smell of chestnuts roasting on an open fire!)
According to Leviticus, God is especially fond of the smell of burning sacrifices. In some cases, these sacrifices would smell just like meat being grilled over coals on a summer's evening. In Leviticus 2, however, we're told that the burning of various grain offerings constitutes "a pleasing aroma to the LORD" (for example, 2:2). I rather like the King James Version's classic rendering: "a sweet savour unto the LORD." Of course, what pleases God is not simply the smell of burning grain combined with pungent herbs or spices. Rather, the Lord is honored by the faithfulness of the one who presents the offering.
In the New Testament, Paul borrows the language of Leviticus to talk about how we should live as imitators of Christ. "Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God" (Eph. 5:2). Christ's sacrificial death was "a pleasing aroma to God" because the Father was honored by the Son's faithfulness and self-giving love. You and I are called to "live a life filled with love." We do this, not only because it's right, and not only because others will benefit, but most of all because our love for others honors God.
When you reach out to love another person today, remember that you are pleasing God. Whether you show extra kindness to your spouse or listen with extra respect to a colleague at work, your acts of love for others delight the Lord with his favorite smell.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What are your favorite smells? Do you think God actually likes certain odors? Why or why not? If you were to think of your life as imitating Christ, whose loving sacrifice was a pleasing aroma to God, what difference would this make?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, first I want to thank you for the sense of smell. I don't think I've ever thanked you for this before, which seems rather strange, given how much smells matter to me. Thank you especially for the ability to smell such wonderful things. (Ah, Lord, I just remembered another favorite . . . the smell of a maple wood fire burning in a fireplace on a winter's evening in snowy Wisconsin. What a joy that was! Thank you!)
Thank you for using the metaphor of smell to teach us about how our actions matter to you. For the children of Israel, their literal sacrifices were a pleasing aroma to you. For us, our acts of love for others generate this aroma. Help me, Lord, to delight you again and again with the aroma of my life.
Finally, I thank you today for the sacrifice of Christ, who gave his life for the world, including me. How much his death honored you like a pleasing aroma! Thank you for the life I have because of Christ's sacrifice. And thank you for the model he sets for me. Help me, Lord, to imitate Christ by living a life of love.
In his name I pray, Amen.