“But when the king came in to meet the guests,
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
Deacon Bob at my home parish today spoke of this parable as a case of someone wanting the Kingdom of heaven, but on his own terms. That really struck a chord with me. I had been thinking about the whole idea of the wedding garment as I lived with this Scripture this week. It’s a colorful detail that’s really hard to overlook in this parable, and I think it has to be explained homiletically.
It probably stands out because it can be seen as an example of Jesus being unfair. If the man was poor, as we can perhaps surmise from the fact that he was brought in off the street, how could Jesus have expected him to be in a proper garment? But we’re told by scholars that at the time, when someone threw a wedding feast, they provided the regal garments for their guests to wear. So Jesus wasn’t expecting the man to do anything difficult: he was invited, he presumably knew the custom, he was provided with a proper and beautiful garment, but he refused to put it on. He wanted to be at the feast, but on his terms, not those of the host.
The feast foreshadows the great wedding feast in the Kingdom of heaven to which we are all invited. Jesus goes so far as to have his servants call people in off the streets, from the highways and biways; he has his servants bring people in from wherever they are. And that’s the wonderful thing about the heavenly banquet: all are welcome, indeed, all are brought in, no matter what kind of garment they are currently wearing, because our God longs to meet us where we are.
And we are provided with a beautiful garment: in baptism we can clothe our souls in a garment that is regal and perfect. Our task is to put on that garment, to preserve the beauty of that garment and bring it unstained to the heavenly banquet. That’s the part that calls for our response: we have to accept the invitation, put on the garment, and preserve its beauty until the day that we are called to the banquet.
But there are so many problems that enter in. We are tempted in so many ways to accept ways of life that stain that garment, or even cause us to take it off completely. We may think we’ll have time to put it on and clean it up later, whenever later may be. We still want to be at the banquet, but we want to get there on our own terms. And it doesn’t work that way.
God forbid that we would arrive without the proper garment. God forbid that we would arrive with that garment in horrible condition. We have been given so much: the free invitation, the free garment, and all it takes is our own response. We have to accept it all on God’s terms, whose ways are not our ways, and whose thoughts are not our thoughts. So may we all accept the Kingdom on God’s terms that we might exclaim with the Psalmist:
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.