The Bad Smell

Imagine you are at the park watching your kids or grandkids play in the public fountain. The sun is shining brightly. Happy kids are screaming in delight as they race back and forth through streams of shooting water.

Just as you’re thinking, “Now I can relax for a few minutes and soak up the sun and laughter.” A strong and pungent dose of reality hits you right in the nose - The woman who just sat down next to you reeks of some disgusting combination of body odor and cigarette smoke. She looks worse that she smells – poor hygiene, dirty clothes, oily skin, missing teeth, unkempt hair.

Desperate to move ‘upwind’ and escape the foul stench, your eyes quickly search for an open bench only to discover there are none available. You instinctually turn away from her and shift, then scoot yourself to the far end of the bench. Your indignant disgust escalates to anger as you think, “How can people like that go out in public?”

As an unintentional prayer starts to form in your mind, “God, please don’t let her try to start up a conversation with me”, the sermon from James 2 about favoritism and discrimination that you heard at church Sunday flashes through your mind - the one about not judging outward appearances and treating everybody the same.

“No way, God! Please don’t make me talk to her. I can’t do it. I won’t.”

The sermon tape in your head keeps playing – “Doing everything in love is the key to living as God commanded us. Love God completely and love your neighbor as yourself.”

“But she isn’t even my neighbor - well maybe (technically) for this brief moment she is,” you think. “After all, she is sitting right next to me.”

So you say a short prayer asking God to forgive you for judging her by her appearance. You muster up your best smile and say, Nice day, isn’t it?” She seems startled – as if no one has ever spoken to her before. Then she smiles a smile that lights up her entire face and says, “Yes, it is.”

As you visit, you learn she is at the park with her three year-old grandson. It’s the first time he has ever been allowed to visit her. Her unmarried daughter, with whom she has not spoken for over two years ended up in the hospital with no one else to watch her son. As she continues to pour out her heart, you realize that this meeting is no accident. You know that God put her in your path today.

Sound familiar? Maybe the “bad smell” is something more subtle – something socially acceptable like that grumpy neighbor you’ve never cared for, the irritating coworker who is always brown-nosing the boss, or the couple who brags incessantly about their daughter’s athletic abilities at the soccer game. Perhaps it’s the grocery clerk or the customer service representative from whom you expect special treatment.

Favoritism (giving people what they may or may not deserve based on their status or appearance) and discrimination (withholding from people what they may or may not deserve based on their status or appearance) is a constant battle for me. It runs rampant in our society. Our culture encourages it.

Jesus loves us all the same - the down and out, the poor, the helpless, the mentally sick, the physically sick, and the spiritually sick. And he wants us to follow his example. I’m pretty good at loving the loveable but the unloveable are a different story – something I need to work on.

The bottom line is that people (all people) matter to God – and that is why they must matter to us. We love and serve God best by loving and serving people.


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