Since today is Easter, I decided to write about a book which had a great effect on me. One Easter break when I was in college, I didn’t go home for the long weekend. My school pretty much emptied out with the students who could leave, but there was a large enough contingent remaining behind that the cafeteria and library opened at reduced hours. For the first time in my life, I was able to attend all the Holy Week Masses and services. Interspersed with religious activities, I studied — and I read The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas.
First published in 1942, the author sought to answer the question of what became of Jesus’s robe. According to the Bible, the soldiers who crucified Him cast lots to see who won it. (After the soldiers had crucified Jesus they took his garments and divided the four ways, one for each soldier. There was also his tunic, but this tunic was woven in one piece from top to bottom and had no seam. They said to each other, “We should not tear it. Let us throw dice to see who gets it.” John 19:23-24 New American Bible) The book’s dedication is to “Hazel McCann who wondered what became of The Robe.”
As a writer, it thrills me to discover an author’s inspiration. Douglas was a minister who didn’t publish his first novel until he was 50, which encourages all authors who fear they might be starting late. He wrote a string of fiction best sellers, causing Hazel, a department store clerk in Ohio, to write him a letter asking about The Robe. The question so fascinated Douglas, he immediately began working on the book, and per Wikipedia, exchanged chapters with her during its writing.
That college break I had the time to immerse myself into the biblical world. Marcellus, the crucifixion centurion who wins the robe, goes from a hardened Roman soldier to a martyr for Christ. Many people talk about the part of the book where Marcellus goes around Galilee, trying to understand just who this Man was he executed. Some people even debate questions of theology, wondering if Marcellus is correct in his interpretation. To me, it’s more important that the protagonist ponders what he learns, then I agree or disagree with the character. Jesus is never actually on the page, but the reactions of those who knew him reveal the familiar stories in an intimate fashion often blocked by the more formal biblical language. Although if you think about it, the Bible is the written recollection of what the people who knew Jesus saw and heard.
But my favorite section is later. The hero has been hired by a wealthy melon grower and as a steward, he lives his Christianity, which is very different from the business practices of the day. His unusual behavior has its effect on the owner and his co-workers. They want to know about this new way of living. Maybe it’s because I majored in business in college, but I’ve always liked how the hero demonstrates his Christianity while still profitably managing the melon business. Living one’s beliefs in a positive fashion brings others to want to live that way, too. I don’t know if I’ve been successful in my life, but that is the principle I strive for, and I first saw it articulated in The Robe, so you could say it’s one of the effects.
I have read and reread this book throughout the years. It remains one of my all time favorites because it brought Jesus’s message closer to me and demonstrated it was possible to live Christianity, no matter what troubles the world. Maybe some day, you will read it, too. I think you’ll be affected by it.