It turns out that “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” may be a rather optimistic take on the human condition.
Rather than acknowledging the nakedness of the emperor, and their own erstwhile foolishness, it is highly probable that the crowds would have ridiculed and punished the young man who had the temerity to point out that the emperor had no clothes on.
If you are unfamiliar with the fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” is a short story written by Hans Christian Anderson and first published in 1837. In the tale, the titular Emperor, in his vanity and pride allowed himself to be swindled by two con-artists who posed as tailors. They convinced the emperor that they could weave the most wondrous of cloths: one which could only be seen by the wisest of men, and that they would fashion a marvelous new suit of clothes for the emperor from this cloth. Said cloth was of course non-existent. They emperor, not wishing to appear foolish, agreed that he was wise enough to see the cloth and pretended that he could. His court followed suit and soon enough the emperor was parading around in his fictitious clothing, naked but to proud to admit that he was not wearing anything. The whole town gave in to this illusion until at last one young man, to young to know better, correctly pointed out, “the emperor has no clothes!” At which point the whole town realized its foolishness.
The fable serves as an excellent metaphor when individuals and populations try to pretend that they are wiser and more capable than they really are. Soon enough they are in over their heads, to afraid to admit their own folly and shortcomings.
In the story, the town all readily gives way to reality, admitting their folly once it is pointed out to them. But what if instead the town had refused to admit the nakedness of the emperor? What if the emperor had, in rage, thrown the young man into prison for his observation? What if the courtiers all commissioned the two false tailors to fashion them suits comparable to that of the emperor. Rather than a town filled with a humbled populace, it would soon have been filled with multitudes parading around without clothing and declaring the finery of their non-existent clothing.
Alas, in real life, this is what seemingly happens all too often, in far too many fields. Men in positions of authority do not like to be told they are wrong, and their followers do not like to admit they were duped. Men frequently react quite badly to such situations.
Consider the case of Jesus. He came to earth and pointed out the folly and sin of men. “Unless you repent,” said Jesus, “You will surely perish (Luke 13:3, 5).” Yet men didn’t want to listen. The scriptures observe, concerning this, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3:19-20; ESV)
More than just pointing out sin, Jesus specifically called out the error of the religious leaders of his day. He pointed out, so to speak, that theologically and spiritually, they had no clothes, and rather than awakening to their foolishness, they crucified him and the crowds cheered it on (cf. Mark 15:13).
But what of us? Might we not be in the same situation? It is a possibility we should be humble enough to consider.
Speaking to the church at Laodicea, Jesus said, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel
you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. (Revelation 3:17-18; ESV)”
The Laodiceans thought they were spiritually dressed, but they were naked. Once Jesus pointed out this truth, the members of that church had to decide how they were going to react. Would they listen, or would they turn on the messenger.
Metaphorically speaking, if we are estranged from a proper relationship with God, we are each spiritually naked. There are many con-men and false teachers who will try to sell us a bill of goods, assuring us that our nakedness is entirely proper, that we are actually wearing the finest of clothing, and that only the truly wise will understand how grand we are dressed. Don’t buy what they are selling. Instead, listen to the honest tailor, Jesus, who can give you proper clothing.
Listening to Jesus takes humility, and the ability to admit we were wrong. Thus God gives grace to the humble, but resists the proud. If we will humble ourselves sufficient as to admit your own folly, Christ will dress you in true grandeur, clothes fit for a king and a priest. The alternative is to go into eternity naked and unclothed.
If you want to learn more about how to be clothed in Christ, the church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.