The Question of the Week
Did Jesus clean himself by taking showers
and brushing his teeth
and having clean clothes and having good fitting clothes?
Lots of parts to this question.
In general, the people of Israel kept themselves very clean. A few words from rabbis in Jesus’ time about being clean:
“Being clean is part of being holy.”
“Keeping clean is better than medicine.”
“People who didn’t keep themselves clean could lose their minds.”
“It’s against the law to live in a town with no bath.”
Pastor Julie’s and my family came from Germany. Lots of people whose families came from Germany have a saying: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Which means being clean is as important as being a good Christian. Which means when I was growing up I had to clean my room and a bathroom every Saturday.
Baths and Spices
Back in Jesus’ day, there were no showers, but there were lots of community baths in towns and villages. Although a rabbi in Jesus’ time recommended “steam baths” followed by a cold bath, and a massage with oils spiced with rosemary or marjoram, most folks couldn’t afford that. You could check out what rosemary and marjoram smell like by asking dad or mom to sniff the spice jars. Not a bad smell. If you’re a roast chicken. I don’t think you’d want to go to school smelling like that. Most people washed their hands before meals and cleaned their entire bodies on Friday afternoon before the Sabbath. There were natural soaps. For people who had jobs that made them very dirty, pumice stones were used with the soap to help scrub the dirt off of them. Travelers and guests were treated to foot washings and oil with spices for their hair (Luke 7:47)
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all say Jesus and his disciples weren’t very careful about washing hands. It’s one of the reasons Pharisees didn’t like Jesus. Like German-Americans, Pharisees thought cleanliness was next to godliness, too. Jesus didn’t think so. Some people don’t have homes. Some people don’t have running water. Some people are afraid of taking a bath. For these reasons and others, some people aren’t very clean. To Jesus that didn’t mean God loved them less. And so, to Jesus, washing your hands didn’t mean God loved you more.
Brushing Your Teeth?
The spice anise may have been used to keep one’s breath smelling clean, but there was no such thing as brushing teeth. Anise smells like licorice, but don’t think dad and mom are going to let you run around chewing licorice all day.
Kids: Grow a Beard
Jewish men like Jesus did let their hair and beards grow, but they took good care of them. Messy hair meant someone was very sad. Roman men shaved, so Jewish men grew their beards as a way of saying, “I’m not one of those nasty Roman people.” It’s a law in the Bible that men had to let the hair on the sides of their heads grow long (Leviticus 21:5).
Girding Up Your Loins
Clothes were very basic. They mainly had to fit in the shoulders and sleeves.
1. Some people wore an undershirt called a haluq.
2. Everyone wore a cloth undergarment called a chiton or tunic. (Like a bathrobe.)
3. Everyone needed a belt made of cloth or leather. Wide cloth belts could be worn like pouches to carry things. Belts held the chiton together and were used to gather the chiton up so one’s legs were freer to walk or work. This is called “girding up your loins.” The people of Israel were told to eat the Passover meal with their “loins girded,” so that they would be ready to escape slavery in Egypt the next day. (Exodus 12). For a nice picture of how to gird up your loins, please see: https://content.artofmanliness.com/uploads/2014/10/Gird-Up-Your-Loins-2.jpg
4. Everyone needed a cloak or imation. Depending on what you did for a living, this piece of clothing could be made of camel or goat hair, so it was waterproof and warm. If you were a shepherd, you slept out under the stars in your cloak.
John the Baptist wore camel hair, because he lived outside. Jesus and his disciples lived outside a lot of the time, too. But not all the time. Jesus had friends who had homes: Mary Magdalene, Martha and Lazarus, John the Beloved Disciple, and possibly some of the women who traveled with him (Luke 8:3). So it’s possible Jesus’ friends could have washed his clothes or even provided new ones.
Don’t Worry about Clothes
So, for Jesus and for most people in his world, clothes were pretty simple. And Jesus taught we should keep it that way.
Why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they don’t toil or spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory wasn’t clothed like them. So if God clothes the grass of the field in this way even if it’s alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven: won’t God clothe you even more—you of little faith? Matthew 6:28-30
Hopefully you’re not worried about what to wear. Or worried what your friends would think about the clothes you just bought. Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is more important to think about than clothes or what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink or what the Packers are going to do about a running game this fall. Jesus wants us to think about the Kingdom of God and what we can do to make it strong. Think about stuff like that, Jesus says, and your mom and dad will still get you new socks for your birthday.