Wednesday, March 10, 1999

Without a Wedding Garment


Mathew 22:1-14

In our previous chapter we dealt with the invited guests' refusal to come to the banquet and discussed the insulting excuses they made for not attending. In Matthew's account of this parable the invitation is to a royal banquet, the kings messengers are killed, and the enraged king sends troops to kill the murderers and burn their city. After this the invitation is sent to other less privileged persons.

Matthew's parable implies that even those who choose to attend the banquet may suffer judgment.

But when the King came to in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are invited, but few are chosen.’

This man’s “failure to dress properly for the occasion is as insulting to his host as was the rudeness of the first guests." 1 "Other men had made light of the kingdom--and stayed away; but he had made light of it--and come! They were at least avowed in their despising of the spiritual--they went to their possessions. But this man accepted the overtures of grace, attended the feast--with a spirit still alien and worldly!" 2 Ultimately it is not whether one is rich or poor, privileged or underprivileged that determines one's destiny. What is crucial is whether we are obedient or disobedient, humble or proud, trusting or presumptuous.

Since those invited from the streets are termed good and bad—

the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad—

it is not surprising that a bad person is discovered among the guests. We do not really know what the customs were regarding such a wedding, but it seems obvious that the king supplied appropriate clothing. The “bad” man, in this case, must have refused to wear the clothing provided. When the garment provided is not worn, the guest shows himself to be arrogant and presumptuous. Consequently, when confronted by the king, he is speechless.

A similar Jewish parable indicates that those who are invited to a feast must be dressed properly. Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai, in the second half of the first century A.D. told this parable:

It is like a king who invited his servants to a feast, but he did not fix any time [for the beginning of the feast]. The wise ones among them arrayed themselves and sat at the entrance of the king's palace. They said: ‘Something is still wanting in the king's palace [i.e. we shall not have long to wait].’ But the foolish ones among them went on with their ordinary work, saying, ‘Is there ever a feast without long waiting?’ Suddenly the king called for his servants. The wise ones among them entered in, fitly arrayed as they were. But the foolish ones entered into his presence all dirty as they were. Then did the king rejoice over the wise ones, but he was wroth with the foolish ones; and he said, "These who arrayed themselves for the feast, let them recline, and eat and drink; but these who did not array themselves for the feast, let them remain standing and watch [the others]." 3

Those who come to the feast have accepted the invitation; they have made no excuses. They want to attend. Among these are those who recognize their unworthiness, who know that they cannot attend the feast without accepting and wearing the freely offered “wedding garment”. Like Joshua they know that they are dressed in filthy clothes. "The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ And to him he said, ‘See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will clothe you with festal apparel’” (Zechariah 3:40). They no longer must stand on our own merits, clothed in their own righteousness. "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (Galatians 3:27).

Charles Dickens the great British novelist of the nineteenth century was also a kind of amateur stage director and actor. He was directing and acting in a play to raise money for the family of one of his friends who died. Queen Victoria indicated an interest in seeing the play, so a special performance was presented for her and her party of about fifty. Victoria asked for Dickens to be presented to her, but he was in a dilemma. How could he refuse such a request, but how could he comply? He was still in costume wearing an absurd wig and red nose? Because he was dressed inappropriately, he graciously refused. He said later, "I could not appear before Her Majesty tired and hot, with the paint still upon my face. . . " 4

Martin Luther sought salvation by works before he understood justification by faith. Luther resolved to perform whatever works were necessary. He sometimes went for three days without food. He prayed more than the regulations required. In winter, he punished his body by not covering himself with blankets and nearly froze to death. He finally realized that he could never do enough to earn salvation based solely on his own efforts.

Too often we act as if it is others who need God’s mercy and grace. We are good upright people who go to church and pay our fair share of the expenses of the kingdom. It’s the drunkards, prostitutes, drug addicts, and the rock-and-rollers that need God’s help, not us.

When we refuse to wear the wedding garment of humility, we show not deference to God. It is as if we arrogantly regard his as an equal. We announce that we are good enough just as we are. Sometimes we think of God as our heavenly buddy, and we fail to understand that God is the wholly other, the Almighty, Omnipotent, Sovereign Creator of the Universe.

1 Wenham, p. 135.

2 Buttrick, p. 229.

3 Oesterley, p. 128.

4 Peter Ackroyd, Dickens (New York: HarperCollins, 1990), p. 785.

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