‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”’ (Mt. 22:11-13)
On Wednesday night, Yale Divinity School hosted its annual Advent party, an affair characterized by lively celebration (to say the least) before folks have to buckle down for the rigors of finals. The invitation to the event this year, just like last year, requested participants to wear formal attire. And just like last year, I completely forgot about this request. After studying in the library and deciding the music was too loud to let me work anyway, I went over and found, to my chagrin, that my bright green shorts, yellow polo, and boat shoes stood out in a room full of suits and formal dresses. Unlike the gospel reading from this morning, however, no dean or professor came over to cast me out into the outer (and bitterly cold) darkness, and my classmates were more amused than offended by my inadvertent faux pas.
The words we find this morning are harsh for what seems like a similarly minor offense, wearing the wrong clothing for an important gathering. What is this garment that seemingly matters so much to the king—who Matthew understands as analogous in some way to God—that he is displeased with the apparent intruder? After all, it seems unlikely that Jesus, who spent so much time among those on the margins of society, would really care all that much about what people are literally wearing. Something else must be going on.
The New Testament talks about clothes in various places, but two stand out for their potential relevance to us here. We find the first in Paul’s discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul writes that in the last day “this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (v. 53). In most Spanish translations, the connection is clearer: the perishable must be vested, clothed, dressed, with incorruption. There’s something important, essential to eternal life, essential to joining at the banquet, that the man in our story doesn’t seem to be wearing.
The second reference to clothing that comes to mind may shed some light on that problem: toward the end of Romans 13, Paul writes words that we resonate throughout Advent:
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Paul invites us all to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” so that, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, we may “great rejoice in the Lord” who “has clothed [us] with the garments of salvation” and “covered [us] with the robe of righteousness” (61:10). This is a righteousness that comes not from ourselves by our own strength, but that comes from the grace of God alone, given to us by the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit, we put on the Lord Jesus Christ and set aside sinful habits and desires in our lives in gratitude to God, who shows us what it means to live in fullness of life. Through the Spirit, we are able to walk with God, not merely as servants, but as friends, and, when we fall, to return to God “with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
The parable this morning is just that: a story about the way that God engages with us that surprises and shocks at every turn, not a story about what has actually already happened in history or what things will look like exactly in the future. We needn’t worry about the man at the banquet because, at the end of the day, the point isn’t that God is looking for reasons to cast us out from the wedding feast. On the contrary, our gospel reading starts with God’s invitation and our choice to respond or not to respond to that invitation. Our lesson asks us to consider two important questions as we go through our lives: How is God inviting us to participate in what God is up to in the world around us? And do our lives testify that we have put on the Lord Jesus Christ and the righteousness made possible by faith in him?
Post by Armando Ghinaglia