2. The Famous Strip Tease
Need a female and a male. The male has a pair of short pants or
swimming trunks on underneath a pair of long pants, plus as many layers
of clothing as possible. Equipment: 2 cordless mikes (no clip on),
but no mike on the stripper.
Text: “If a creditor takes you to court and sues you for your outer
garment, give your undergarment as well (Matthew 5:40).”
Background. Jesus' second example of assertive nonviolence is set in a
court of law. A creditor has taken a poor man to court over an unpaid
loan. Only the poorest of the poor were subjected to such treatment.
Deuteronomy 24:10-13 provided that a creditor could take as collateral
for a loan a poor person's long outer robe, but it had to be returned
each evening so the poor man would have something in which to sleep.
Jesus is not advising people to add to their disadvantage by renouncing
justice altogether, as so many commentators have suggested. He is
telling impoverished debtors, who have nothing left but the clothes on
their backs, to use the system against itself.
Indebtedness was a plague in first-century Palestine. Jesus' parables
are full of debtors struggling to salvage their lives. Heavy debt was
not, however, a natural calamity that had overtaken the incompetent. It
was the direct consequence of Roman imperial policy. Emperors taxed the
wealthy heavily to fund their wars. The rich naturally sought nonliquid
investments to hide their wealth. Land was best, but it was ancestrally
owned and passed down over generations, and no peasant would voluntarily
relinquish it. However, exorbitant interest (25 to 250 percent), could
be used to drive landowners ever deeper into debt. And debt, coupled
with the high taxation required by Herod Antipas to pay Rome tribute,
created the economic leverage to pry Galilean peasants loose from their
land. By the time of Jesus we see this process already far advanced:
large estates owned by absentee landlords, managed by stewards, and
worked by tenant farmers, day laborers, and slaves. It is no accident
that the first act of the Jewish revolutionaries in 66 C.E. was to burn
the temple treasury, where the record of debts was kept.
It is to this situation that Jesus speaks. His hearers are the poor
("if any one would sue you"). They share a rankling hatred for a system
that subjects them to humiliation by stripping them of their lands,
their goods, and finally even their outer garments.
Why then does Jesus counsel them to give over their undergarments as
well? This would mean stripping off all their clothing and marching out
of court stark naked! Nakedness was taboo in Judaism, and shame fell
less on the naked party than on the person viewing or causing the
nakedness (Gen 9:20 27). By stripping, the debtor has brought shame on
the creditor. Imagine the guffaws this saying must have evoked. There
stands the creditor, covered with shame, the poor debtor's outer garment