Monday meditations: John 19.23

23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”

So the soldiers did these things, 25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. (John 19.23-25 ESV)

As I sat on Holy Saturday reading the four Gospel accounts of the trials, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the detail of the seamless garment that John records stood out to me. Mark, Matthew, and Luke all record that the soldiers divided his garments and cast lots, but none of them go into any more detail. As an up-close eyewitness, John was able to fill in the details about the dividing of Jesus’ outer garment and the dice throwing for his tunic, which even the soldiers recognized as something too valuable to destroy. Better that one of them should win it in tact than it should be destroyed and the parts spread out equally.

The seamless garment has a history not unlike other early Christian relics, and has been used in recent years as a metaphor for Christian living. Still, we know very little for sure about it. It was most likely made specifically for Jesus, perhaps by his mother, or one of the other women John names here. Whoever made it, they took time to craft a garment with great skill (think about what it would mean for a garment to be seamless), something of beauty and worth. It may have been Jesus’ only tunic, but we at least know he valued it enough to wear it to the most important supper of his earthly life and that it was on him or near him to the very end. It caught the attention of the soldiers (which stands out given the brutality of their context) at the time and made a lasting impression on John, who recalls the detail of the garment even writing more than 60 years after the fact.

I haven’t done this so far in these meditations, but for this week, consider meditating on this one object: the seamless garment and how it might speak into your life. Someone devoted their craftsmanship and art to making this wonderful garment for Jesus, something he valued, wore, and took comfort in (as we all take comfort at times in certain garments). In your life as a follower of Jesus, what are you creating for Him? Are you applying all your art, all your skill, all your effort into making Jesus something of beauty, something even his enemies will stop and marvel at? Are you making something for Jesus that others, even ones otherwise callous and uncaring, will be unwilling to destroy? What sort of seamless garment can you make (yes, you can make one) and give to the Lord? Are you working on that?

As a word of caution here, what this meditation leads us to consider is how we might pursue excellence in our ministries and efforts for the kingdom, but this is not the same at all as perfectionism. Excellence is what we should pursue, but as Adam Russell, the wise pastor of the Campbellsville, KY Vineyard, taught recently, excellence and perfectionism are not only not akin, they are polar opposites. Pursuing excellence entails a passionate pursuit that engenders freedom, productivity, and creativity. Perfectionism is born out of fear and will only limit you, make you unproductive and stifle your creativity.

Whatever your medium, whatever your art form, pursue it in the freedom the Holy Spirit brings and make our Lord and his bride a seamless garment.