The second way Jesus tells people to resist, is to get naked. But it is a purposeful nakedness that plays with a cultural understanding of shame. In the process, it serves as a light of the world. That is a lot to take from the words, “and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your tunic as well.” So let me explain and draw a modern equivalent to getting naked. Once again, Walter Wink (affiliate) will be our guide.
Suing For A Coat
In order to make sense of what is going on, we need to understand why one person would sue another for their coat. It stems from a line in Deuteronomy 24. When the poorest of the poor owed money, a creditor could rightfully take their coat as a pledge of repayment. However, every evening, they needed to return the coat so the debtor could remain warm at night.
Now, when I first read that I wondered who is going to be so obsessed with repayment that they go so far as to take a poor persons coat every morning and return it every evening just to keep the debt at the forefront of the poor person’s mind. But then I see interest rates that Wealth of Nations (affiliate) author Adam Smith would consider preposterous. And I come across evidence loaded reports that reveal how the IRS ignores tax avoidance by the richest among us while going after everyday people. It is not exactly the same, but really, not much has changed.
Debt In Ancient Israel
In this case, everyone in Israel experienced heavy taxation. Rome demanded tribute from Israel. Herod had no intention of footing the bill, so he taxed wealthy Jews. Wealthy Jews wanted to avoid heavy taxation so they sought to hide their wealth, something most easily done through land acquisition. That said, in Jewish society, land was ancestral and it would bring shame on ones family to sell it. So what were the wealthy to do?
Over time they discovered that, using a blend of heavy lending, charging payday loan like interest rates on the debt, and pushing the Roman tribute tax onto the masses, the wealthy could force the common people to sell their land. By Jesus’ day, the wealthy own large estates managed by stewards. Tenant farmers, day laborers, and slaves would work the land they once owned. In this setting, where the commoners had nothing left but their tunic and their cloak, that the creditor brought them to court for the cloak.
Why Get Naked?
So why then, after handing the coat over to the creditor does Jesus tell them to give their tunic, the only clothing they have? Why does Jesus tell them to get naked?
In Hebrew culture, public nakedness was taboo. But it was more shameful for the person who viewed someone naked than the person who was naked. The ultimate shame, was causing someone else’s nakedness.
So there they stand in court. The creditor and the debtor. The judge looks at the case and has no choice but to rule in the favor of the creditor. He demands that the debtor hands over his coat. But to the shock of everyone, he peals off both layers. He places them over the arm of the creditor and says, “This will get me that much closer to paying off all my debt.”
He then proceeds to walk out of the court butt naked. The creditor, beet red, chases after him hoping to get him covered before his greed is exposed. Moments later, the two of them stand before the whole community with the shameful evidence of the wealthy man’s greed on full display. That is how you can get naked as an act of resistance. It is how you can get naked and be the light of the world.
Getting Naked Today
So what might this look like in our world today? One of the best examples I can think of at the moment happened on April 20, 2019. That was the day Chase Bank CEO Jamie Dimon testified before the House Financial Services Committee.
California Representative Katie Porter, using Dimon’s own numbers, laid out the budget for a single mother in her district who worked as a teller at one of Dimon’s banks. Before addressing expenses like clothing, lunches, school expenses or health care, she determined the woman, who shared a one bedroom apartment with her daughter and ate the most basic diet, would finish every month $567 in the red. Turning to Dimon, Porter asked, “How would you suggest she handle this shortfall?”
All he could say was, “I don’t know.”
To be clear, a man who ran a bank that made $36.4 billion dollars in profit in 2019 had no clue how to cover a $567 shortfall for one of his 257,000 employees. That is 257,000 employees who, on average, made his company over $140,000 in profit each.
Porter exposed greed and put it on display for the world to see. It was the 21st Century equivalent of getting naked.
This post is part of an ongoing series. Link here for a list of every episode in this series.