Attire with a message
By Fr Gabriel Julien
As we begin the second Sunday of Advent, Matthew 3:4 states that John the Baptist: “wore clothing of camel’s hair”.
Camel’s hair is clipped from the neck, back, and hump of the animal. It is then properly woven into a coarse, rough and durable garment and though it is often itchy, it is still used for clothing.
This was in fact the type of garment worn by John the Baptist and was possibly used as part of his austerity to separate himself from the soft raiment and gorgeous apparel of the kings’ courts, (Mt 11:8, Lk 7:25) the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
It was also probably chosen by the Baptist as a means of trying to identify with the outward appearance of Elijah, who also wore: “A hair cloak, and a leather loincloth” (2 Kings 1:8).
Zechariah 13:4 seems to suggest that wearing a “hairy garment” was a characteristic of some prophets: “When that day comes, the prophets will all be ashamed to relate their visions when they prophesy and no longer put on their hair cloaks with intent to deceive”.
During the latter part of the era of the prophets, Mark 12:38 alludes that this form of dress was contrasted with the “long garments” used by the Pharisees and the “gorgeous apparel” of the Scribes who often frequented the court of Herod (Lk 7: 25).
Thus, Matthew 3:4 portrays a vivid description of John to underscore that John did not live in obscurity and isolation but was well known to all since his raiment was of camel’s hair. Moreover, he did not use a camel’s skin, with fine and soft hair, dressed and spun into thread. Rather, he wore a kind of sackcloth, coarse and rough, made of the raw, long hair of camels.
Since the prophet Malachi, the Lord raised up a new prophet to restore Israel back to the right path. As rightly prophesied, in Luke 1:17, John the Baptist came “in the spirit and power of Elias”. Thus, by his lifestyle and clothing, he pointed the people to the real messages of the ancient prophets.
John’s simple life of abstinence was in total accordance with the requirements of that sacred vow (Lk 1:15, Num 6:3 and Judg 13:4).
His simple clothing was quite appropriate in keeping with his call of reformation against the wickedness that was quite prevalent at that time. John clearly proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was not of this world and his outward attire supported this fact. He genuinely lived what he preached.
Father in Heaven, as the second week of Advent commences and we continue to prepare for Your coming, we humbly seek Your forgiveness since many times we do not practise what we preach.
Although we frequently attend Holy Mass, we still permit arrogance, hatred and hostility to dominate and plague our hearts and as a result we fail to uphold The Commandments.
Father, You called John the Baptist to prepare the way for Your Son and his task was flawless. He was unafraid of challenging the people and calling them to repentance.
Further, his constant call to atonement for sins and to a life of poverty and simplicity was reflected in his attire. Father, we are undoubtedly called to be valiant like John the Baptist but because we are so swamped in materialism, we lose sight of You. We are often very innocuous, and timid to do what is correct and right.
Father in Heaven, help us to restore our true vision and be forceful, bold and outspoken like the Baptist. Help us to overcome the numerous barriers that confront us in our daily life. Above all, help us to emulate the profound example of John, poor and simple in attire but loud and assertive for what is just and correct. Amen.
The gospel meditations for December are by Fr Gabriel Julien, a diocesan priest.