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Purple Garments and Fine Linen


The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31) starts saying, “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.” The purple color is a combination of blue and red like violet but visibly better than violet.

Garments made of natural dye was traditionally associated with royalty or piety. The emperors of Rome, Byzantium, and Japan, or fabulously rich and prominent people worn such garments. The purple garments and fine linen were also the official dress of the high priest of Israel. The purple dye was the mucus secretion of predatory sea snails of Murex family found in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It had to be extracted from thousands of snails involving extensive human labor. So, purple garments were of high value and only rich and royal people could afford to buy them. Thus, garments made of natural dye became a status symbol.

Dress made of fine linen (byssus) was another expensive and prestigious clothing of the past. Egyptian priests wore such silk dress originated in Egypt. Egyptians got the material for this fine linen from India. When Pharaoh shared his power with Joseph, he dressed Joseph in robes of fine linen clothes (Gen 41:42). When the prodigal son returned after repentance, his father dressed him with the finest linen (Lk 15:22). It had double the price of gold and could stand for luxury (Lk 16:19) or moral purity (Rev 15:6).

In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man enjoyed dressing in fine linen like the prominent Jews, who also preferred to dress well in public. The purple garments and fine linen of the rich man were highlighted to show their contrast with the dirty and torn clothes of Lazarus.


When Jesus, the Son of God, became man, he could have born in a royal or rich family, and could dress in purple garments and fine linen. Jesus wants us to be rich in heaven by sharing the riches of this world with the poor. He became a role model for us. Unlike the rich man and his five brothers in the parable of Rich Man and Lazarus, let us find joy in humility, sharing, and hope of reward in the afterlife.


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