Wild truth. That’s the description that comes to mind when I study John the wilderness prophet. John was called the forerunner or way-preparer of the coming Messiah. Radical was his message; radical was his baptism. While forms of immersion and washing were practiced in the temple, John’s baptism was one of total devotion, never having to be repeated. It was all about cleansing and transformation.
Yet, to be ready for the Kingdom, to recognize the Messiah when he would arrive, repentance was necessary. John preached, therefore, that a sign of this internal-transformation was how a person conducted themselves toward money and toward others. A person who would look like the coming Messiah would be content with what God was giving them and they would share what they had. In other words, they would be predisposed to looking-out for the needs of others. This would be a sign of Gospel generosity.
John preaches with earnest, earthy language. He is in the stuff of life to show men their need. One of these earthy illustrations is found in the hulag, or the tunic which was the common undergarment that everyone wore. It wasn’t the most important garment, it was the most basic and most needed.
“The tunic was a shirt that was worn next to the skin. It was made out of leather, haircloth, wool, or linen. Both sexes wore tunics but they was a difference in the style and pattern. For men, the tunic came down to the knees and was fastened at the waist by a girdle of leather or cloth. Female tunics were very similar to the males, but went down to their ankles.” – Heather Breining in the article link above.
John says, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none…” (Luke 3:11)
Now, let’s be practical here and ask ourselves, “If we have ample supply of our basic needs, how are we supposed to know who has a tunic and who doesn’t?” At least three simple answers to that question come to mind:
- The need of a tunic became obvious when someone was wrapped up with an outer garment only. They would be hiding both their shame and their cold. My guess is that there were people cloaking their needs in the very crowd John was speaking to. Messiah would be looking for those basic needs to be met.
- Therefore, we have to be close enough to people to be able to observe and comprehend their needs. We need to be involved enough with people where we can see the neckline of their T-shirts and that’s a way to say “eye-to-eye”. The church must function in close, caring, and discreet community.
- And then, we need to share our abundance with others in need. The Messiah-community can no longer support the excuse that says, “Well, all the people around me aren’t that needy.” Or, “I don’t know anybody who has basic needs like that.” If that’s what we commonly tell ourselves, then we need to get some new friends for Jesus’ sake! The Good News is a generous news. The Gospel will work against hoarding. We should cringe and ache in our spirits when we find ourselves with amply more-than-enough and nobody else to care for at the same time.
Because we all struggle with this, our Messiah-community practices what is called WeBay. I use the word “practice” because it’s a Gospel-principle more than it is a place. The WeBay was invented about 10 years ago to dedicate an area of our ministry center to the exchange of tunics. We ask people that if they have any items of value and abundance to bring them and freely place them on the WeBay (a series of shelves and racks for organization etc). We have had tens-of-thousands of euros worth of clothes go through there. We’ve seen kitchen supplies, shoes, motor oil, cleaners, couches, desks, beds, and even some skis all make their way through the gospel generosity filter. So far, no children or elderly parents have been donated but a few turtles came through once (and almost landed at my house).
The principles for WeBay are simply to freely give (let-go!), freely take (meet your need), and freely give again (take something and meet other’s needs). This activity and practice is so healthy both to the giver and the recipient! What I’m pleading for in this post is that there has to be some avenues for giving that we regularly utilize to work through our abundance and our repentance at the same time. When the majority of the church is practicing this, it adds fabulous flavor to the minestrone.