Summary: Wearing the garment of Christ
DRESSED IN HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ALONE
We owe a great deal of our modern phrases or figures of speech to two sources; Scripture and Shakespeare. Often I like to quiz my confirmation students on whether a phrase comes from the Bible or Shakespeare. From Scripture we derive such phrases as “my brother’s keeper,” “sour grapes,” “horse of a different color,” “raising Cain,” and “handwriting on the wall.”
Shakespeare gave us “give the devil his due,” “all that glitters isn’t gold,” “break the ice,” and “heart of gold.” From one single speech in Hamlet we have taken “neither a borrower nor a lender be,” “to thine own self be true,” and most notably, “clothes make the man.”
If clothes do indeed make the person what they are or identify them as something special, what does that say about the importance of choosing what we wear? Clothing is a matter of personal style, necessity of climate, and often an occupational requirement. Is there any other consideration to be made? Most people choose clothing for its practicality and comfort, yet we buy clothes made from leather or wool that require special care.
Whether we dress for success or just to appear neat and clean, there may be a deeper need with which we ought to be concerned. According to Paul, we need to clothe ourselves in a special garment, not visible to the eye, but detectable all the same. It’s a special garment because it is modeled after the one designed and worn by someone very special to us, someone whose style we should all try to copy.
The garment had its origin a long time ago, in a remote part of the world, its maker unaware of who the wearer would be or who would become of him. The fabric of this garment was woven by hand, from linen threads spun from fibers of flax. The color was unimaginative and dull, a rather plain, off-white, natural color of the fibers themselves. It was the color of the poor. Only the rich could afford the vibrant colors that dyes provided; the rich color of kings, the royal blue and gold of the wealthy.
The weaver of this cloth came from a long family line of weavers; a humble, yet proud profession. Centered in Palestine, the family had been the proud manufacturers of linen garments for the priests, called ephods. Most of the priest’s robes were standard size, but there had been a time in the family when a woman called Hannah requested a small amount of linen to make a robe for her son. This boy, Samuel, went to serve in the temple of the Lord when he was very young. Year after year his mother had come back to the family’s business, each year needing just bit more fabric as the boy grew.
Plain linen made up a great deal of their merchandise, but once there had been a very special order that came from a man who had 12 sons, a proud and happy man who often sent his wives to purchase garments to clothe his growing family. One day, however, Jacob himself came to commission a very special coat; a multicolored coat as a special gift for his favorite son, if such a thing could be spoken aloud. The coat took over two months to complete and required a great deal of dye with thread to match. That sale alone had kept the weaver and his family fed for months!
In addition to the various clothing needs of both priests and other citizens, the weaver’s family had always been in the business of manufacturing strips of cloth to be used at two of life’s most emotional moments; the birth of a child and the death of a loved one. When a child was born, he or she was immediately bathed in salt water and rubbed with salt as a symbol of truth and honesty.
Then the child was swaddled in strips of cloth, wrapped up snuggly to comfort and calm the child. Mothers who could afford to do so placed orders for these linen strips, in accordance with their tradition. To deprive a child of swaddling would have been an unthinkable injustice.
Swaddling strips were also used at the end of life’s journey to bind the dead for burial. After the body was prepared by washing and applying spices, the same long strips of cloth used to protect new life were used to wrap the dearly departed. It seemed obvious to the weaver that his work, although commonplace when compared to other great artisans and tradespeople, was an absolutely vital part of the lives of his customers.
It was just such an important piece of everyday life that a descendant of the original weaver was working on at the time when Emperor Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the empire. Every citizen was required to return to his birthplace to be properly counted, and of course, taxed. The weaver was fortunate that he still lived in his hometown of Nazareth and would not have to travel. This woman who had placed the order for the swaddling clothes he was working on had a significant distance to go, all the way to Bethlehem, and in a very obvious advanced stage of pregnancy.