Article of Clothing

by Jack Slinkman

What are you wearing? Yes, really. What are you wearing? Regardless of how much thought you put into your outfit today, your clothing says something about who you are, how you want to be perceived, and what you expect from your day. When faced with an important job interview, you might plan your outfit the night before. Before you go on a first date, you might try on a number of outfits. Point being – when we clothe ourselves, we are engaging in a conversation with our circumstances. We wear “this” instead of “that” because we want to make a good first impression. We wear “that” instead of “this” because we want to feel comfortable. In Mark 5:21-34, a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years touches Jesus’ garments with the sincere thought that “If [she] just touch his clothes, [she] will be healed” (Mark 5:28 NIV). She stops bleeding, and, as the story goes, Jesus replies, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (Mark 5:34 NIV). Importantly, the focal point was the woman’s faith, not the cloth. Though the decision we make in front of the mirror each morning may appear to be unrelated to a woman’s miraculous encounter with Jesus, our clothes are a conduit for some of our most intimate emotions and thus can teach us about ourselves and about our relationship with Jesus.

Perhaps there is no better place to start than mankind’s first invention – the loincloth. Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit and, in the events that followed, they realized they were naked, sewed fig leaves, and hid from God. Woven into the shoddy coverings is mankind’s contempt, depravity, and shame. The fig leaves are as much a broad-sweeping statement about mankind’s fallen condition as they are a personal confession of how we, as individuals, have betrayed God. In reply, God foreshadows Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice by shedding blood to properly clothe Adam and Eve. Our depravity is articulated thus: Adam and Eve were commissioned to take care of God’s creation, but instead defiled it by way of original sin. In one elegant metaphor about clothing (note my use of the word “metaphor” is not calling the literal events of Genesis 3 into question), we see the original intent of creation, the perverse repurposing of good things, and the sacrificial and redemptive plan to cover our sin. To parallel Genesis 3:1-24 with Mark 5:21-34, the clothes are not the object of our faith, but instead they bear witness to it. The lesson applied is no more complex than this: though, in our sin, we are inclined to fashion our own fig leaf, it is only Jesus who can clothe us in righteousness.

The story of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32:1-14 teaches us more about humanity’s relationship with clothing. As with the fig leaves, emblazoned into this false idol is the Israelites’ contempt, depravity, and shame. Recall that the Israelites were in the wilderness—trekking towards the Promised Land and escaping from bondage in Egypt. The calf was smelted from Egyptian jewelry. To construct the idol, the Israelites repurposed the rings and earrings that were acquired in Egypt. Here again, an article of clothing has been perverted by idolatry. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve idolized the Forbidden Fruit; but here in Exodus 32, the idol is a golden calf. The loincloth and the jewelry reveal uncomfortable truths about our own depravity. Despite being physically removed from slavery, the Israelites are still bound to their old lives. And in our modern world, despite being spiritually saved from slavery, there are many markers in our lives that suggest we are still in captivity. For our part as Christians, we would do well to study the idols in our lives and to study precisely how these idols were smuggled into the wilderness.

When violently battered by the storm in Matthew 8, the disciples turned to Jesus for rescue. His response is particularly illuminating: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” The disciples, like the woman in Mark 5:21-34, found themselves at Jesus’ feet, tugging on his garments: “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” (Matt. 8:25-26 NIV). So why does Jesus rebuke the disciples for their lack of faith when he praises the woman for hers? Unlike the woman, the disciples’ approach suggests that it was their circumstances that were dictating their emotions, not the miracle working deity in their midst. Therefore clothes do exactly what they have been designed to do—they keep up our appearances. Peeling back the layers of our clothing reveals our deeper emotional state and is no different from the act of peeling back the layers of an onion. When I was a child, I was unburdened by what others thought of me. If I didn’t want to choose between sweatpants or shorts, I would throw my shorts on top of the sweatpants so both could be seen, my identity and my wardrobe unconcerned with asking the question of who I “should” be and far more interested in answering who I “could” be. High school, for me, became all about who I “should” be. Every conversation I held, every article of clothing that I wore, and every emotion I felt was devoted to whoever I was trying to impress at the time. Though I’d like to think my relationship to my clothes more adult, more likely, my clothing choices oscillate between the self-assuredness of my youngest self and the self-centeredness of my teenage self. And though not every piece of clothing we wear is a statement piece, there are revealing statements lying in wait for those with a keen enough eye. So while our glances in the mirror are typified by superficiality, maybe the way we present ourselves warrants a deeper look.