Question

 Father Angelo,

 today, on Good Friday, meditating on the Passion of our Lord, I was struck by the fact that Jesus’ tunic was not divided into shares by the soldiers, but it was bet on instead.

Of course it would have been ruined if had been  cut in pieces; but there must be a different reason, since the evangelists focused on this detail – of little importance, otherwise.

 Can you help me to understand the meaning of this accentuation ?

 I wish you a Holy Easter,

 Angelo


Response from the priest

Dear Angelo,

1. St. John mentions this detail: «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» (Jn 19, 23).

2. The evangelist emphasizes this detail because the tunic used by the Jews was basically made up of two parts, joined together at the hips.

It was a prerogative of the chief priest to wear a seamless tunic, which the historian Josephus recalls in that very precious work entitled «The Jewish Antiquities». He writes: «This tunic (of the high priest) is not divided into two pieces with seams on the shoulders and hips, but is a one-piece fabric with an opening at the neck not cut crosswise, but cut along the chest up to the middle shoulders» (The Jewish Antiquities III, 7,4).

3. Biblical scholar L. Moraldi, who edited the Italian version of this work, notes: «Two indirect coincidences from the Gospels describe the text regarding the chief priest tunic.

From the Gospel of John: «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» (Jn 19, 23).

And from the Gospel of Mark when, at the words of Jesus, the chief priest, «tearing his clothes», presumably forced the opening (of the tunic) along his chest».

4. Father Marie Joseph Lagrange writes: A seamless vesture certainly had a value: the chief priest wore one similar to that of Jesus; it had certainly been woven by the hands of a woman who believed in Jesus, by one of those rich Galileans women who followed him or perhaps by his own mother.

Since the time of Saint Cyprian, Christians identified the tunic as the symbol of the Church, which must remain one. Woe to the supporters of schism who tear it up!  («The Gospel of Jesus Christ», p. 558).

5. There are therefore two meanings in that seamless tunic.

The first one refers to Jesus, the True and only Chief Priest, the only Mediator between God and men.

The chief priests from the Old Testament were merely prefigurations of the True Chief Priest.

Men needed such a Priest: «This was the high priest we needed: holy, innocent, spotless, separated from sinners and elevated above the heaven» (Heb 7:26).

For this reason, the Jerusalem Bible notes:«Possible allusion to the Priesthood of Christ on the cross: the chief priest’s vesture had to be seamless».

6. The second meaning refers to the unity of the Church, which is implemented through love.

This is the meaning recalled by St. Thomas: In a mystical sense this detail (of the seamless garment) can refer to the mystical body of Christ.

And then the garments are divided into four shares, because the Church had to spread into the four parts of the world. (…).

The undivided seamless tunic  means love, since other virtues are not united, but they get to stick together because they converge towards the ultimate goal, to which they are unified by love. In fact, although faith shows the ultimate goal, and hope makes us tend towards it, only love makes us reach it  («Commentary on the Gospel of John», 19:23).

7. Love unites all the virtues because it gives a new motivation to the acts of each of them: it causes everything to be done for love of God.

And so it internally unifies the whole life of man, even from a psychological perspective.

Furthermore, love is peculiar in this way: that it does not leave God far away, but integrates Him intimately to our soul, as Saint John recalls: «God is love; whoever remains in love remains in God and God remains in him » (1 Jn 4:16).

8. St. Thomas does not even miss what St. John says about that tunic that was “woven in one piece from the top down” (Jn 19:23).

«Then the tunic is woven from the top down because the body of Christ was formed by a superior virtue, that is, by the virtue of the Holy Spirit».

Let also be added that this love comes from above, because it’s the very love of God instilled in our hearts (Rom 5: 5).

I gladly wish you a happy and Holy Easter in return.

I remind you to Lord and I bless you.

Fr. Angelo

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