Wearing the wrong clothes…the story of a wedding robe. Sermon for Adel Parish church 11th Oct 2020.
Matthew 22: 1-14
It’s probably something many of us have done…arrived at an event only to find we’re not suitably dressed. Or if we haven’t…we’ve probably worried about it.
As a teacher, the usual fears were added to by endless possibilities of getting the wrong day for non-uniform, red nose day, children in need…or worse still, the dreaded ‘World book day’. I have a vivid memory of walking to school rather conspicuously dressed as Willy Wonka – from Roald Dahl’s book about a chocolate factory. By the time I was half way I’d convinced myself I’d got the day wrong…so it was a great relief to meet a ‘Cat in the Hat’ coming the other way. We exchanged a wry smile…clearly a fellow sufferer who worked in a school!
It’s a very human failing isn’t it? Either we love clothes and spend too much time thinking about them…or we’ve no confidence with clothes…and spend too much time worrying about them.
Surely though, God is different? Surely God doesn’t care how we’re dressed? But then we hear this rather disturbing tale about the man without a wedding robe. A man just going about his daily business more or less forced into a wedding feast…and then apparently expected to be carrying a wedding robe – just in case.
We want to hear that God welcomes everyone – just as they are…and this parable disturbs that picture.
It’s fairly obvious the King in this story represents God. Presumably the party is for his Son Jesus…in recognition of his coming Kingdom. So we might assume he first invites the religious leaders, the great and the good – people who would expect to be invited to God’s banquet.
But they appear to think they’re already ‘in’ with God, they don’t recognise Jesus as his Son, so they find more important things to do…or even get angry at the repeated invitations…and kill the messengers.
So far so good, we know that bit of the story…many of God’s chosen people didn’t understand who Jesus was. They were indifferent, or angry and even violent towards him. So the message was taken out to others…the lame and blind, tax collectors, prostitutes, the riff raff…in fact the slaves were sent to fetch ‘everyone you find…both good and bad.’
Here’s the bit we want to hear…Christ’s banquet is for everyone. All are invited…the ones the world ignores…the ones who don’t feel themselves worthy…even the ones described as ‘bad’. Jesus welcomes us just the way we are…and then there’s that man without a wedding robe – who gets thrown into the outer darkness…
That’s the thing about Jesus…we think we have him pinned down, understood…but he upends our ideas leaving us totally disorientated.
So, let’s look at that bit of the story again. The king notices a man not wearing a wedding robe, and says to him “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” Not an angry dismissal – but a friendly enquiry. “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?”, a gentle encouragement to talk.
But the man apparently has nothing to say…’he was speechless’. He can hardly have been surprised…I don’t suppose 1st century Palestinians were any less embarrassed by not having the right clothes…but he has nothing to say.
Perhaps he had nothing to say because he just wasn’t interested, wasn’t bothered. He had somehow been gathered into the banquet, was happy to enjoy the food…but didn’t feel it required anything of him.
Is Jesus perhaps reminding us that God does indeed invite everyone to his banquet, good and bad alike…and does love us just the way we are, but that he doesn’t want us to stay that way?
God issues the invitation – but it’s up to us to really accept it. And that means being ready to change, to at least begin to clothe ourselves appropriately.
I’m not sure what appropriate clothes for the kingdom of God are…perhaps love, justice, mercy, truth? I’ve experienced enough of God’s love to feel confident that we aren’t expected to have perfected these before we’re welcome. In the parable both good and bad were brought in. It seems the only one who wasn’t welcomed was the one who couldn’t see the need for change. Who when gently asked about himself had nothing to say?
I wonder, what could he have said to the King?
“I was hungry and smelled the food…I hoped you would feed me”?
“I was lonely and saw the lights on…I hoped you would welcome me”?
“I was sad and grieving and heard the music…I hoped you would share your joy”?
“I didn’t have the right outfit…I hoped you would clothe me”?
Would he then have been welcomed…offered a robe?
I’d like to think so. I’d like to think this parable isn’t describing an arbitrary, ruthless God…who apparently on a whim throws someone out. I think it’s something just as tough – but much more loving. I think it’s a challenge to those of us who feel we’ve accepted God’s invitation…to those who have just stumbled through the door…to understand the invitation brings with it a requirement to at least engage.
Following Jesus is a call to action. A call to listen to his words and consider how they apply to our lives; to repent and reform. I don’t know what that looks like for you…reaching out to heal a rift with family or friends…spending more time in prayer…offering more of your time, talents, money to help others…finding time to enjoy God’s creation…owning up to a part of you that is especially unChristlike…giving faith a bit of serious thought?
I don’t think there’s one identical robe…but I do think we’re all invited to consider how we need to change…and to make a start.
I think this parable tells us these two things…God will go to extraordinary lengths and look in the most improbable places to invite everyone to his table…
…if we accept his invitation, we should be ready for change.