In this culture the most awful details of human suffering and deprivation are graphically available to almost anyone at the click of a button. I find myself relieved that God did not choose to expose every detail of the agonizing death of His Son in the ways we have grown accustomed to today. Our imagination is quite sufficient to fill in the blanks to an adequate degree. In light of that observation, I find it intriguing that God seems to have a tendency to avoid details that many would have chosen to include, and to insert ones that seem to be oddly incongruent with their surroundings, if not downright bizarre. For example,
“Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” Therefore the soldiers did these things” (John 19:23-24 NKJV).
Jesus’ garments were all that was left of His life materially. When He wore them, they moved as He moved, went where He went, stood as He stood. Perhaps He wore those same garments when He called Lazarus back to life, or when He cursed the fig tree, or when He stood in the Temple area to teach. Now they’re just garments—no life in them. As far as material things are concerned, we could even call them the dead leftovers of His life and ministry, because as far as we know, the garments that the Roman soldiers claimed, including the one they cast lots for, comprised nearly all of His tangible property, and earthly legacy. They were claiming these things as their own, even while the One who actually owned them was still alive. According to the rules of the day for those involved in the grisly business of torturing people to death, the garments of the victims, and whatever else they might have had with them, was theirs to claim. All four soldiers wanted the tunic, and tearing it apart to divide it didn’t make sense, so they decided to cast lots to see who would win it. They apparently had no personal concern regarding the One who had worn it, and no hesitation in conducting their selfish and larcenous game in the shadow of His cross, and in the midst of His agony. They valued what was His, but not Him.
At least one movie was made about Jesus’ tunic back in the 1950s. It was called ‘The Robe’, and it characterized Jesus’ garment as having an almost magical power to transform the lives of those who possessed it. In a more recent endeavor, Hollywood writers conjured up another story about a physical item associated with Jesus, and it had even more magical properties than those associated with his tunic. This story revolved around a cup that almost certainly didn’t even belong to Jesus, though He did use it at least once as a part of His last Passover meal with the disciples. In this story, the cup, dubbed long ago as the ‘Holy Grail’, had become the object of an international treasure hunt, because it supposedly had the power to transmit ‘eternal life’ to whoever drank from it. Being the premier finder of un-findable artifacts, the hero of the movie, ‘Indiana Jones’, was recruited as the ‘finder-in-chief’ for the good guys—accompanied in this tale by James Bond—who was apparently moonlighting as ‘Indy’s father, due no doubt to a downturn in the demand for aging spies in the 007 market. Fortunately, after an hour and a half or so of drama, trauma, near-death experiences, and collisions with an assortment of nefarious Nazis, they found it. It seems that the ‘Holy Grail’ was hiding in a cave among a bunch of other grails that weren’t so holy. It was being protected by a knight, who in spite of his magically extended life, seemed to be in need of a face lift and some vitamins. Not unexpectedly, Indy applied his uncanny ‘findability’ and snatched up the real one, but not before the main bad guy had wet his whistle from the wrong grail and contracted a very aggressive form of some kind of flesh eating disease.
Unfortunately, even though they did find the real thing, all they were able to get out of it was enough power to save Sean Connery from a pretend death. Then there was an earthquake because somebody crossed the ‘do not cross this line’ line, and God got mad. A big hole opened up and the holy grail dropped into it, along with a woman of questionable moral character who was reaching for it with motives that were way too mercenary. Then there was the whole fake temple where it had been secretly stored for a couple of millennia collapsed, and there was a lot of dust—after which ‘Indy’ and his dad and some other guy rode away on horses. No one, apparently, acquired any additional life, fake or otherwise, from the magic in their ‘holy grail’. Such is Hollywood’s take on stuff left behind by Jesus, and as shocked as I am to hear myself say it out loud, I agree with them —nothing of any eternal spiritual value is to be gained by anything material that the Son of God may have left behind or had contact with. The power is in Him, not the stuff.
Let’s bring it to the ‘So What’ question now. As you choke back a, ‘Yeah, we already knew that’ comment, let me ask why, if we are so clever as to have figured that out already, do we continue to exhibit a tendency to attach more value to things associated with Him, than to Him? We are prone to attach more value to the building that we call the ‘church’ than the people who comprise the ‘Church’, more value to the rituals we have declared to be holy than to personal holiness itself, more value to the book that His Words are written in than the words themselves. The woman who received healing because she touched the hem of His robe didn’t get it from the material she touched with her hand. Jesus did not say that He felt some power leak out of His robe. He wasn’t wearing an electrified power transmitting jacket with a battery life indicator on it. Transforming power does not come through handling what touches Him, but it comes in touching Him – and personal faith is the only contact means that was ever approved by which to do that. We may not have physically driven the nails through Jesus’ flesh like those soldiers did, and we may not be guilty of gambling for His clothes like they did, but we are as much a cause of His death as they were, and as accountable to God for our part in it. Though no one can replicate the situation that the soldiers faced that day, we could easily replicate their tragically flawed value system. Like them, we could turn our attention toward things that seem to benefit us in a way that appears more relevant to us than the One on the cross, and we could treasure the things associated with Him while, at the same time, ignoring Him. One of those soldiers left that day clutching Jesus’ empty, lifeless tunic, no doubt thinking that he had rolled the dice and won. What an awful tragedy if he discovered too late that there’s no resurrection in the lifeless leftovers.
© 2014 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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Really appreciate this perspective. Thank you for sharing this!