Bishop Taylor regularly shares his very insightful homilies with the rest of the world through facebook.
Are you his FB friend yet?
His latest homily talks about the symbolism of clothing back in the days of our Lord Jesus. Attending Stations of the Cross would never be the same again…
Preached at Good Shepherd parish, Fordyce AR on April 4, 2009 and at St. Augustine parish, North Little Rock AR on April 5, 2009.
Holy Week begins with people taking off their cloaks and spreading them on the road before Jesus. It ends with the Roman soldiers stripping Jesus of his clothes and nailing him naked to a cross. And throughout this week things happen to clothing that reveal to us the meaning of all that Jesus suffered for our salvation. But to understand these events correctly, we need to remember 2 things about clothing in the ancient world.
1. Jews were very modest and public nudity was considered indecent. But not so in the pagan world, where naked statues were everywhere and male athletic events were conducted in the nude. The word gymnasium means place of nudity—athletes were naked, gymnos is Greek for naked, hence our word gymnasium. The Jewish revolt in 132 BC was sparked by an attempt of Greeks to build a gymnasium in Jerusalem, defiling the Holy City with what Jews considered to be indecent behavior. The Romans were well aware of how scandalized Jews were by public nudity, so when they wanted to execute a Jew in the most humiliating, indecent and degrading way possible, they stripped him completely naked.
2. Jews had the custom of (a) removing their outer garments to express humility and (b) ripping their outer garments from the top downward to express profound negative emotions, especially anger, rejection and grief.
So what about clothing during that first Holy Week? First we have 2 instances of outer garments being removed to express humility. On Palm Sunday people spread their cloaks on the ground before Jesus as he enters Jerusalem, and then on Holy Thursday Jesus removes his cloak to wash his disciples’ feet, humbling himself before them.
Then on Good Friday we have 2 instances of outer garments being ripped from the top downward to express negative emotions. First the High Priest rips his garment to reject Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah, which he judges to be blasphemy. And then after Jesus dies God rips the veil in the temple to express his grief at the death of his Son.
And then there are also 2 instances of people stripped completely naked. First Mark gives us the humorous detail that when Jesus was arrested there was a young man following him wearing nothing but a sheet. They seized him but he left the sheet behind and ran off naked. This was probably Mark himself–and given the Jewish attitude about nudity, you have to wonder what he was up to out in public with just a sheet on! The most likely explanation is that he was sleeping nearby in the privacy of his home, heard all the commotion and was in such a hurry to find out what was going on that rather than take the time to get dressed, he just grabbed the sheet and ran outside. But with Jesus the torture meted out by the Romans was methodical and they purposely violated the Jewish taboo against nudity in order to degrade him even further and at the same time offend Jewish sensibilities. They stripped him completely naked—a detail that even we find too indecent to actually depict on our, thankfully, more modest crucifixes. Then they nailed him to the cross and propped him up in full view of everyone. The main point of Roman crucifixions was not so much their gruesomeness as their obscenity…which is what St. Paul is talking about when he speaks of the scandal of the cross!
Good Friday ends with the most obscene, degrading death imaginable, but that’s not the end of the story. Joseph of Arimathea will clothe him for burial, restoring his dignity in death and then 3 days later Jesus will then leave those burial clothes behind in the empty tomb as he rises from the dead victorious, this time clothed in glory!