“John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”” (Luke 3:11 )
I have had occasion to be in a store that sell apparel and supplies for travelers and hikers. One type of clothing recommended for traveling is “breathable”, and dries quickly after being washed or gotten wet. Smart travelers, the packaging says, only pack one or two sets of underclothes, washing them every night, so as to cut down on the amount of luggage you have to carry around. Gone then are images of world travelers who have suitcase upon suitcase and steamer trunks packed to bulging. In light of extra charges for luggage, perhaps traveling light like that is the way to go.
For hikers having “breathable” clothing, which means clothing that does not cause you to sweat and dries quickly, is essential. Hiking in cold or warm weather means that you have to prepared for changes in both body temperature and outside temperature. And when hiking several days you do not want to have sacrifice body in your pack for clothes when you need to be carrying supplies for sustenance and survival.
In early times having one set of clothes to wear and one set to wash and have drying were the norms. After all, you can only wear one set of clothes at a time, so why incur expense that could not be afforded by having multiple sets of clothing. Plus, there was little space to store clothes; you had a peg/hook or two to hang the clothes you were not wearing them. Closets filled with clothes, big enough that a person could live in them, were unknown and unrealistic. And closets just for shoes would have been ludicrous.
But John is advocating even more minimalism than this. Even having two of something means that you could share one. If you had something you were not using at the time, you had extra. This was true, John said, not only for clothes but for food. The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary notes that this was to guard against the avarice that was seen amongst some people at the time. There were the “haves” and the “have-nots” and if you were a person that had extra you could share with those around you.
Some of the poorest people I know in the United States have more than one set of clothes. Food is a different issue, and I know of people who could not be sure where their next meal was coming from. Fortunately there are people working in agencies who provide consumable goods. These same agencies make sure that the poor have clothes to both wash and wear. Whether motivated by faith systems or social justice systems, there are people who provide for the needs of the poor.
But in our modern society definitions of what poverty is differs. Government has set a poverty line in terms of income. Granted, there are people (too many people) who have income/resources far below that. But there also people who governments and agencies consider to be poor who have more than one set of clothes and have food for the coming meal. I am not saying this people do not need help and assistance; they do. But is having more than you need at the moment avarice? How do we define that? Where does assuring survival of our selves and our family end, and avarice start? If we have the means to buy clothing and supplies that mirror a minimalist lifestyle, as I outline above (because these “wash and wear” clothes are not inexpensive, and buying them for international travel reflects means far above the poverty line), does that prove avarice? These are issues to wrestle with.
This verse from the gospel of Luke brings us back to the issue of social justice that is within shalom. And for our modern world, there are no easy answers. May you gentle reader be assured of resources for today and tomorrow, but may the God of shalom move you to share with others. Selah!