It’s true that clothes matter. Similarly true that they don’t. I’ve learned both truths in great measure this year.
In addition to hands on experience, I’ve spent quite a lot of time these past several months scouring the Bible looking for references to clothes, trying to patch together some sort of theology of clothing, a cohesive way of seeing clothes like God sees clothes. My conclusion is the above paradox—God loves a good paradox; I get this idea, that they matter and they don’t, from God.
While I have little time or space for a full run-down of examples here, I think Jesus himself proves a fascinating case study.
First, the white dress, blue robe picture in our heads is a guess. Unlike John the Baptist, the camel-hair wearing outsider, Jesus’ clothes aren’t described in any detail—interesting as Jesus is our high priest and high priests, historically, have been pretty flashy dressers. We get the idea from Isaiah that Jesus’ clothes were probably plain.
Jesus’ first clothes, swaddling clothes, are also plain—but of course, extraordinary in their plainness.
When Jesus talks about clothes, He encourages us not to worry about them and rebukes men in good clothes with bad hearts. He teaches us that moths will eat our clothes, and so we must set our hearts on things above.
However, He also cares very much that the poor have clothes. And, in one of the most striking parables in the Bible, the wedding feast, describes a king who banishes a wedding guest for not wearing the appropriate clothing.
Three instances from Jesus’ life indicate a very strong connection between identity and clothing (we’ll look at those later this week).
When John describes the risen and reigning Christ in Revelation, he notes that Christ’s clothes are beautiful.
All these pieces work together to paint a quite complicated picture of clothing and the role it should play in our lives. Considering the text of the Bible as a whole only feeds the complexity.
Honestly, I was surprised to see the Bible speaking to clothes as important, even if on the next page it suggested otherwise.
I think it’s unwise for us as a church to downplay the role of clothing in a life, dismissing it as a superficial topic of conversation. That’s why I’m writing about it. Because clothes teach us things about ourselves, about God, about love and grace, purity, grief, community and identity. And, certainly, those things matter.