Blog 2: What is John wearing anyway?

So think about my description of John the Baptist: that guy with animal skins who eats honey and locusts. The bible is mostly shy on descriptions of people and what they eat – the writing style isn’t the same as a modern novel, a modern history, or anything we’re familiar with. Yet details matter in the bible the way they matter in poetry. So let’s look at this specifically:

Matthew 3: 4: Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

Camel’s hair maybe isn’t exactly animal skins, but the feeling that just a belt tied his “cloth” to him – no sewing, no ruffles, no collars, no sleeves perhaps? Rougher than even the poorest person’s clothing, perhaps. And scratchy, itchy, hot when the sun pounded on it – I think that can be fairly included in the picture. This might be reaching a little too much, but back in Genesis, when God finds out that Adam and Eve are trying to hide themselves, having discovered shame, God helps them out. They made the choice to eat of the apple, and there are consequences that God can’t stop – Adam and Eve are forever changed. But He makes them clothes:

Genesis 3: 31: And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.

God made them clothes! Let’s not overthink this, but let’s think about the comparison with John the Baptist. Perhaps it isn’t so far-fetched to think that John’s camel skins are there as a faint echo of Adam and Eve’s skins. And an echo of the price of recognizing one’s flaws and one’s mistakes. And a faint echo of God’s love and care always working for us?

Although recently (thanks Christine Yoder at LPC’s Lenten Study) I heard the idea that the skins that Adam and Eve were clothed in were like fur coats: royal, luxurious, rich. In which case, John the Baptist’s hot itchy rough camel skins are the opposite. Perhaps representing his humility and his servanthood; perhaps symbolizing how far humanity has gone from what God intended.

Think about it in story terms — motifs and symbols. For example, the children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis) enter Narnia clothed in fur coats and become kings and queens in Narnia. Interesting!

John the Baptist might have chosen another road in life, followed in his father’s priestly footsteps, worn fine priest robes. (What did his parents think? Can you imagine?)

John doesn’t call us to be royalty; John is calling for redemption. For repentance. For healing and forgiveness. Is this a call anyone in the story is going to like? Do we like it? Perhaps the “royal behavior” that was desired for sons of Adam and daughters of Eve is service and acts of loving-kindness?

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