A friend of mine told me last week that when he opened his newspaper, there was an enclosed fly-leaf which turned out to be a dress-code reminder from the Catholic church to the ladies attending mass. Ladies were supposed to be dressed modestly and not show up in spaghetti straps or shorts, perhaps because their naked shoulders or thighs might distract the men, including the priests, or cause other women to be envious.
This got me to thinking of my own experiences of having to show up in my “Sunday best” when attending church. I remember sometime in my teens when I wanted to just wear a simple T-shirt and jeans but my dad chastised me, saying that I should wear something nice “for the Lord.”
I wasn’t too vocal about it then but I think the Lord couldn’t care any less what I wore. After all, it also says in 1 Samuel 16:7 that “man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” It is ironic that a ceremony designed to welcome everyone to focus on no one else but God, should have all these social conventions that keep other people from feeling too uncomfortable.
Some Christians will likely quote Jesus’ story in Matthew 22 where Jesus talks about a king inviting everyone to the wedding banquet of his son, but during the wedding finds someone who didn’t have “wedding clothes,” and so tied the poor fellow up and threw him outside. So it was on that principle that people were demanded to “show respect to the Lord” when appearing for Sunday service.
However, the Book of James 2:2-4 states, “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
What I gather then from this is that, yes, you show a certain respect towards the occasion by dressing appropriately, but the ultimate arbiter of what “respect” means surely has to be the the person you are giving respect to, and not the doorman. That is what James seems to be saying, to not discriminate and judge others by their outward appearance.
I mean, why should it have mattered to the creator of the universe what I wore when he could see me naked day in and day out in the bathroom? In the gospel stories, Jesus certainly didn’t care what the people who associated with him wore. He welcomed whores, beggars, drunkards and the like. When a man shows up at the door with a beer bottle in hand, or a woman in a tight miniskirt and a tube top, do you turn these people away, look at them apprehensively, or welcome them with a warm and genuine smile?
Anyway, these are simply intellectual musings for me at this point in time as I no longer attend church but for those who still do, this might be something for you to think about.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.