You were dead in your transgressions and sins . . . But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved) . . . (Ephesians 2:1-5).
It felt like the hottest day in mid-August. As I jogged around the
neighborhood, my sweat-soaked shirt clung like a second skin. Waves of heat
rippled above the asphalt. The humidity was so high, I thought I was
That suffocating combination of heat and
humidity is probably why I smelled the cat before I saw it. I rounded the
corner and spotted its decaying body in weeds by the curb. Its lifeless lips
tightened into a grotesque grin, and sun-bleached ribs peeked through
putrefying flesh. I held my breath and picked up the pace to move past the
Over the years, I’ve passed dozens of dead
animals during my exercise routine, and I always ignored them. But this time –
probably to keep my mind off the heat – my thoughts wandered back to the cat.
“What if someone dressed the dead cat in a silk suit and tie?” The question
dropped into my mind and, for a moment, the image startled me.
“What if someone draped a gold chain around its neck and splashed expensive
cologne on its face?”
I smirked at the ludicrous image. A gallon of cologne couldn’t mask the odor of
death, nor could the most expensive clothes hide its appearance. Nothing short
of God’s supernatural intervention could breathe the fragrance of life into
Then the spiritual parallel swept into my mind.
Scripture repeats the message so often, it’s a wonder anyone misses it. Without
Christ, we are all spiritually
dead in our sins. That’s the point St. Paul tried to impress on his readers in
Ephesus: “You were dead in your
transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). The Greek word the apostle used
to emphasize their condition before God made them alive in Christ (v. 4) is nekros. It’s the same word from which
English speakers get necrotic.
In other words, before God’s intervention, they were necrotic. And without His intervention through Christ, so are we.
It doesn’t matter who we are, or what we have – academic degrees, religious
titles or affiliation, hefty bank accounts, political power, or praise from
others. Without Christ, we stink (Isaiah 64:6; 2 Corinthians 2:15,16), and God
can smell us on the other side of the universe. Nothing short of His
supernatural power exercised through His Son gives us life.
The Bible calls it being, “born anew” (John 3:1-7, 1 Peter 1:3). And the
Catechism of the Catholic Church proclaims: One
becomes a member of this people not by a physical birth, but by being “born
anew," a birth "of water and the Spirit," that is, by faith in
Christ, and Baptism” (Para 782).
Being compared to a dead animal was not a proud moment for me. But the
dead cat image captured my attention and gave me a glimpse of God’s
ineffable mercy, because regardless of the depth, breadth, and frequency
of our sins, God’s grace can cleanse us. By our faith in Christ – and in
no other -- God clothes us in glistening robes at our baptism and, through our
ongoing confession and repentance, breathes life into our necrotic corpse
No one smells so badly that Jesus’ blood cannot transform the odor of decay
into the sweet fragrance of eternal life.
We have Scripture’s promise about it. But we also have Scripture’s warning:
Jesus is not the best way to heaven. He is the only way.