We are Commanded to Clothe the Naked People.
Jesus prophecies that in the Final Judgment, praise will be given to His followers who care for others. He says,
I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick, and you visited me, I was in prison, and you came to me.” Likewise, He curses the wicked, saying, “I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.Matthew 25:36
It seems at first glance here that for a person to be naked is a really awful predicament! The only thing to do to remedy this problem is to put clothes on those naked bodies, right?
Yet, Jesus also remarks:
“Consider how the wildflowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.Matthew 6:28-29
In another place, he instructs:
“From one who sues you and takes away your cloak, do not withhold your underwear either!Matthew 5:40
Our bodies do not need to be clothed to be beautiful or functional. They are splendid simply as they were created, without further adornment.
What are Clothes for?
So why does God clothe Adam and Eve, as he banishes them from Eden? And why do we have this verse condemning those who take away a person’s clothing?
Jewish sages view the clothing of Adam and Eve as an act of God’s kindness as they enter the harsh climate beyond the bounds of Eden.
God clothes his children to protect them from the thorns and thistles; he equips them to survive the rigors of their new environment, and not because their naked bodies are not fit to see the light of day.
This is indeed a gracious act of loving kindness towards his children.
A little history lesson
Prior to the creation of the sewing machine, garments had to be woven by hand—a lengthy and expensive process involving treating, dying, spinning, and weaving.
In Bible times, most people could only afford a single garment, usually a simple shirt-like outfit.
And many instances of Scripture focus on this common situation, where a person would use his garment as collateral for a loan. Here is an example:
If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you…you shall not charge him interest. If you ever take your neighbor’s garment as a pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down. For that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin. What will he sleep in? And it will be that when he cries to Me, I will hear, for I am gracious.Exodus 22:26-27
Naked Used to be Normal
Throughout Scripture we observe lots of instances of purposeful public nudity not associated with shame.
There are prophets and kings walking about nude for years, people fishing naked, gardeners, fieldworkers and vinedressers working naked, and of course, people sleeping naked.
Basically, if someone’s only garment was lost or stolen, that person went around naked!
Such loss could bring the shame of poverty, but not of simple exposure.
People were not ashamed to be naked; they were ashamed to be poor and destitute.
When we understand the correlation of nakedness to “garment-lessness,” it opens our understanding. Listen to these condemnations of causing the shame of poverty upon others:
For you have exacted pledges of your brothers for nothing and stripped the naked of their clothing. They lie all night naked, without clothing, and have no covering in the cold.… They go about naked, without clothing; hungry, they carry [other’s food, but do not eat]; they tread the winepress, but suffer thirst.Job 22:6-7, 24:10-11
If a man… does what is just and right— if he… gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment [and] does not… withhold his hand from injustice… he is righteous….Ezekiel 18:5-9
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?Isaiah 58:7
When Jesus instructs us to “clothe the naked,” it is not about making sure their bodies aren’t seen. Rather, it is an example of His Second Law: Love your neighbor as yourself.