By Deacon Bill Hagen
For the Umatuna Si Yu’os
Verse seven from the 20th chapter of John left biblical scholars with a bit of a mystery. The Gospels do not deal in trivia nor do they waste words on elements of a story which have no meaning. So, what is the meaning of “and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place”?
Often when something seems out of place, we will find a reference to the act, or the event, in the prophets of the Old Testament, such as in Isaiah, but the scholars could find nothing having to do with head coverings of the dead. That the burial cloths were there indicates that there is no body in the tomb, but why was the head cloth, or napkin treated separately? One explanation can be found in Hebrew tradition of 2,000 years ago and has to do with the master/servant relationship.
In Jewish households of that time, the servant would set the dinner table exactly as his master wanted it right down to the slightest detail. The servant would then wait just out of sight, perhaps behind a curtain leading to another room to ensure that all his master’s dining needs were met. Under no circumstances would the servant enter the room or interrupt his Master until he was finished eating. When the master was finished eating, he would wipe his hands and mouth with his napkin, stand up and toss on the table as a signal that he was finished.
However, if the master got up from the table, rolled up his napkin and laid it beside his plate, the servant knew that the master was not done eating and would return. The rolled napkin, like Jesus’ head cloth, was the master’s signal that, “I am not done yet, I will return.”
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