Very rarely do all four Gospel accounts relate an incident in the life of Christ. For example, the multiplication of the loaves is the only miracle reported by all four evangelists. So it becomes particularly notable when Matthew, Mark, Luke and even John relate that before his crucifixion, Jesus was stripped of his garments which were then divided among his executioners. St. Matthew writes: (27:35): After they had crucified him, they divided his garments by casting lots. St. Mark notes: (15:24): Then they crucified him and divided his garments by casting lots for them to see what each should take. St. Luke briefly records: (23:34) They divided his garments by casting lots. At greater length, St. John observes (19:24): When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier. They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down. So they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be,” in order that the passage of scripture might be fulfilled that says: “They divided my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots.” This is what the soldiers did.”
As St. John carefully notes, the division of Jesus’ clothing by lot had been predicted by the psalmist centuries before: (22:19) “They stare at me and gloat; they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots.” The opening words of this same psalm were cited by Jesus during his agonizing death: (22:1) “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The coarse disrobing of Jesus and his consequent public nakedness upon the Cross added public humiliation to personal pain during the Master’s final hours. In the pages of the Bible, nakedness was closely aligned with sinfulness. In the Garden of Eden, before Adam and Eve had sinned, they were indeed nude. But they were not ashamed. They took delight in one another’s beauty: “This one at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” But once they had sinned and were expelled from the garden, their nakedness resulted in humiliation so they sewed garments to cover their shame. Sin changed nudity into nakedness, and ecstasy into embarrassment. Recall also the incident of the drunken Noah whose nakedness so embarrassed his sons that they entered the cave to cover their father’s undress walking backward in order to avoid viewing him in such a pitiable state. So the crucified Messiah is reduced to the same level as Eden’s sinful couple and the sozzled Noah. Jesus was not merely nude on the Cross; he was naked, a victim of shame and the butt of scandal. How low could one get?
The humiliation of Jesus through public nakedness was compounded during the hours of his passion by his being briefly arrayed with grand attire both by the cowardly Pilate and by the debauched Herod. St. John records: (19:5) “So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak. And he said to them, “Behold, the man!” Jesus, already humiliated by his bruising and beating, is now arrayed in imperial finery certainly adding to his ignominy. St. Luke writes that Herod followed suit: (23:11) “Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him, and after clothing him in resplendent garb, he sent him back to Pilate.” As if public nakedness were not enough, these two governors deepen Jesus’ shame by clothing him in nonsensical attire, a mocking imitation of the finery that characterized Roman authority.
On a much more respectful note was the reverse action of Joseph of Arimathea who would not allow Jesus’ body to be buried in humiliating nakedness: (23:53) “After he had taken the body down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb in which no one had yet been buried.”
While the scourging, beating, lashing, nailing and piercing of Jesus on Good Friday afternoon were certainly excruciating to endure and horrid to witness, Christ’s public nakedness must not be overlooked as an important statement about the closeness of the sinless Christ with the sinful humanity he was redeeming. As St. Paul well observed: (2Cor.5:21) “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” The righteous Jesus became sin, emphasized by his nakedness, so that sinful mankind might be clothed with the garment of righteous. Never was Jesus closer to the human race than when he hung stripped and exposed on the Cross.
Jesus’ public nakedness should be a great consolation to every believer. Jesus wanted to eliminate every barrier between himself and sinful humanity. Even clothing would not get in the way of Jesus’ intimacy with mankind. The evangelists’ accounts of Holy Week are indeed chilling narratives of cruelty, agony, and death. But they also offer stunning reassurance of the nearness of the Master to his errant followers.