One of the biggest mistakes that we can make with scripture, especially the parables is to read them literally. This is often the case with this from Matthew’s gospel. The meaning of it lies deep beyond literal words which is why parables are used. Parables are good for reaching into the soul…though your head almost certainly won’t understand.
Many people get really upset that the man with the wrong clothes got kicked out of the banquet…some say ‘What if they couldn’t afford the right clothes… if they had come in off the street perhaps they couldn’t have known to wear the right clothes on that day!
And I say it has nothing to do with what people were wearing on their bodies…..
So we have to look for the symbolism.
Whenever there is a wedding in the NT we should be alert to the notion that this is pointing to the increasing nearness between the human soul and God. This is the trajectory of our spiritual growth, we might even have experienced that sense of oneness fleetingly from time to time.
But Jesus lived in that blissful state… ‘I and the father are one’ he says in John chapter 10 and we are invited to that same union with God, in and through Christ.
This is the wedding! The wedding is being hosted by the King. So we can imagine that in this parable the king is God and it is his Son’s wedding, Christ’s wedding.
Who then is the bride? Well elsewhere we are told that The Church, that is the body of believers is the bride of Christ. We might then assume that those of us, who profess a faith in Christ are not only invited to the wedding as guests but in Christ we are invited to be a part of the great Union..
So the servants come and invite us to be a part of this most profound, glorious, indescribably transforming mystery. Yet we barely recognise who it is who it is who invites us, never mind what it really means for us and we decline politely because unfortunately we are way too busy…We have to attend to our business, often our church business. We have to make sure our buildings are in order and the property schedules are done and that we have attended all the meetings and produced the minutes and there’s that concert we have to prepare for and make sure we’ve published all our services ready for the church magazine and…on and on
And that is precisely what is happening in the parable. The People make light of the invitation from God because they are too busy going about their mundane business.
Now of course we all know we have to go about our church business but the point is that those that were invited, that God assumed would want to come, failed to recognise the significance of the invitation.
So anyway, the King tells the servants to go and invite people off the streets to come… no matter who they are good or bad let them come to this feast.
Now this is interesting because it tells us that actually all people are invited to this wedding, all people can partake in this union, it’s not just for the few who think they are entitled (even if they choose to decline ).
All people are invited! So the people ‘off the streets’ come the wedding hall is full of guests. And the king comes to see his guests as we might suppose he would but there was a man not wearing the right clothes. Well the king wants to know why he is not wearing the right clothes and he is speechless. But his lack of right attire results in his being banished; for, we are told in the last verse of this parable that, ‘Many are called but few are chosen’
We could surmise then that the reason few are chosen is because few actually wear the right clothes. So what then would be the right clothes then to attend this event in?
Let’s turn to the reading from Philippians 4:8-9, which sits with this gospel reading in the lectionary. Here we find an entire wardrobe of clothes that would be appropriate for this wedding. Here they are:
Rejoice in the Lord. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. Do not worry about anything but pray with thanksgiving with your requests to God. Focus on what is just and right and pure and commendable and worthy of praise.
These are the clothes you should wear.
You see God wouldn’t mind too much if you turned up to the wedding in cut off Jeans, a ripped T shirt and a knotted hanky on your head. Your outer clothes are of no concern.
It is the state of your heart and mind that matters above all else. Self importance, pride, lack of forgiveness, lack of kindness, judging others – these are the clothes that will find you banishing yourself from the wedding. It is not so much that God will throw you out, it’s simply that you are not in the right inner state to be able to resonate with the meaning of the wedding and the really important point is that you are responsible for choosing what you wear.
So the questions for us are these.
Firstly do you really even want to respond to the invitation in the first place or is our mundane life more important and, if you are planning to accept the invitation (for it is always on the table), are you choosing to wear the right clothes in your dealings with God and with your neighbour, the clothes of humility that Jesus always wore and always suggested we do the same if, whoever we are we want to, take our place at the banquet.
Thomas Merton eloquently as ever puts it like this
Surrender your own poverty and acknowledge your nothingness to the Lord.
Whether you understand it or not, God loves you, is present in you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you and offers you an understanding and compassion which are like nothing you have ever found in a book or heard in a sermon.