The Wedding Garment
At times Jesus spoke in parables. Parables begin as earthly stories, speaking about things we are familiar with, like a wedding banquet. There is a twist to the story that can turn up side down our familiar understanding and reveal something new. They end with the intent to reveal something spiritual, something about God’s kingdom. Parables are very much like a riddle designed to tease us into seeking the spiritual truth, the Word of God. God promises to those who seek, who knock that they will find and the door will be opened to them. With perseverance a person can be rewarded with a wonderful treasure when confronted with a parable from Jesus.
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and every thing is ready; come to the marriage feast.’ But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Wedding arrangements at the time of Jesus had many similarities as marriage arrangements today. When two people decide to get married, then the related families get involved with the planning.
A marriage proposal not only signifies the coming together of two people to be one, but also invites the related families to come together in a new alliance. Such an alliance whether in marriage or the joining of two families involves nurturing of friendship, caring and giving to each other, and that especially includes forgiving one another.
Families can be small or large. Whatever the make up of a family the endeavour to support each other is there. This support is also seen in other areas in our community and life. There are other social groups that can be called “family” simply by the way they behave. For example, students in a classroom will usually support each other against trouble in a school yard, or play together because they share what is common. The same is true at the work place where people work closely together they will support each other. Like other families, Christians everywhere are bonded together through a common faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.
Overall, families tend to be exclusive in their behaviour. Members of families first tender to their own kind before considering any outsider. This is certainly true when wedding guests are considered and especially those who will be invited to the wedding banquet. Parents and Grandparents are invited and they certainly expect an invitation. Some uncles and aunties will be there too. Not all the cousins will expect an invitation. It all depends on who they are. After the important relatives have been invited there are some places for good friends as well. Picking and choosing who to invite can produce quite a tension amongst family members.
Families remain strong while there is a continual, giving of self, caring and forgiving each other. Things go wrong in the family when we abandon others to only care for ourselves. When that happens, the alliance between members of the family becomes shaky and the meaning of family becomes blurred. Simply, self-centredness destroys relationships.
Self-centredness, whether at home, in the classroom, workplace or church can tear the relative family apart. In all these areas it can often appear as spiritual piety. That is, an attitude towards the other that says, “I’m better than you.” It is pride, a misplaced pride that brings such an attitude forth. It is an offensive attitude that forces others to stay outside of your exclusive group.
Self-centredness, spiritual piety, and pride are closely related. In fact, they are a family of their own. Those involved with this family show signs of rudeness to others and are unfriendly to visitors and strangers who come into their presence. They generally complain, and make more noise about themselves than putting that energy into helping others with their needs. They are found everywhere and in the church too.
It is into this context of a family falling apart that Jesus speaks his parable. This family, the nation of Israel had been unfaithful to God. Their alliance and covenant with God through Moses had been strained to the limit. Through their self-centredness, spiritual piety and pride Israel behaved badly. Their focus was on how special they were amongst the other nations. They were the chosen ones. The prophets of old considered Israel to be the bride of Christ. In their pride they were exclusive of others. They failed to give and care for others in their own land and to the foreigner as God would have expected of them. They thought they had it right. But God eventually got sick of them and took away the little they had left, their spiritual piety, that is, their self proclaimed belief that they were special in all the world.
In the parable, the King invited again and again the guests to come to the wedding feast for all things were now ready. The King was ignored and humiliated. They weren’t worthy to be invited any longer. Instead, he sent out his servants to go throughout all the streets and invite all they could find both bad and good to come to the wedding feast. They did more than invite they gathered and brought all they found. As good servants who knew the will of their King they did what their master would have done. I image the servants would have lifted the sick and weary and carried them to the wedding hall both the washed and unwashed. All were invited and gathered to come.
In this parable the focus is upon the guests. There is no mention of the bride. How strange! At the time of Jesus, it was usual that the highlight of the marriage feast is when the groom places the “wedding garment” perhaps his cloak over the bride to claim her and then they both depart. The “wedding garment” then and the exchange of wedding rings today indicate the martial commitment to each other. The groom is committed to give of himself in every way for the welfare of his bride. And the bride would give likewise to the groom. But where is the bride?
Have you heard the good news in this parable? The twist in the parable comes when we discover that the invited guests, the common person from the streets are more than the guests, they have become the new bride of Christ. The former bride was unfaithful and unworthy.
Even though we may appear to each other as unworthy, God has chosen you, all of you, both bad and good to be part of his family. This new family alliance is inclusive of everyone. Everyone is invited. In the kingdom of heaven, God’s kingdom we are all members of the family. As a whole family body we are the bride of Christ, the bride of the King’s son. You and me, we wear the wedding garment of the King’s son.
The groom who is faithful loves his bride and will care for you in every way. Once we were merely unworthy spectators from afar, but now we wear the wedding garment, the cloak of righteousness that indicates that we belong to the groom, to Jesus.
The cloak of righteousness shows us that we have been placed in a position of honour in the family, in the kingdom of heaven. With this privilege comes the responsibility to be faithful in our position as partakers in the kingdom of heaven. Like God, like the Son, we too need to be caring of others and forgiving, so that the family alliance remains strong.
Should you foolishly discard your cloak of marriage and become selfish and disregard others in their needs, so will God disregard you in your needs. But remember, you have always a faithful groom, in Jesus who is our Lord and Saviour. He is always willing to forgiven our unfaithfulness, to welcome us back, and to once more place the wedding garment upon us. Through Jesus as our loving groom he is faithful to strengthen us in body and soul to life eternal with him. Amen.