Jesus spoke to the chief priests and the Pharisees in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
‘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.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’
Today’s reading is one of those passages from the gospels that often give rise to confusion and misunderstanding. In reality, it sits well alongside the readings of the last three days.
Jesus himself is the King’s son whose wedding banquet should give rise to great rejoicing. But, as we know, Jesus was not welcomed in this way. The religious leaders rejected the opportunity to join in the celebration of God himself coming to share in our humanity. The one who came to redeem the lost sheep of Israel was rejected and would ultimately be killed by those he came to save. And so we read of the first tranche of guests at the wedding banquet violently rejecting the call to respond to the landowner’s invitation.
However, Jesus’ mission was not to the Jewish nation alone. Jesus came with the same message of redemption for all people. The landowner’s invitation became an open call to any who recognized the true nature of his son and who wished to show their faith and their gratitude by joining the celebratory throng. But, then comes the issue of the man who was not wearing a wedding robe.
To fully understand this moment in our reading we need to know a little of the wedding customs of the day. As guests arrived they were given, by their hosts, a wedding robe to wear. Just as modern weddings may ask guests to comply with some sort of consistent colour scheme, so the guests at a well-to-do first century Jewish wedding would have been provided with a wedding robe. For someone to refuse to wear that gifted robe was seen as a great insult, and as a cynical refusal to enter into the true spirit of the celebration. Once we understand this feature of contemporary wedding banquets, we can more readily understand the fate of the man who was not wearing a wedding robe.
As we respond to the call of God in our lives, we are invited to don a Christ-like persona. We are called to love and serve in a self-sacrificial way, in a way that invites us to don new clothes, clothes which demonstrate our commitment and our faith. No matter how much we may wish to reap the benefits of discipleship, they will not be available to us if we cannot set aside our old personalities and put on the clothing of God’s faithful ones.
Let us pray that we might respond to the totality of God’s call in our lives. Let us pray for the humility to strip off our old lives and to don the new life that we are shown in Jesus’ earthly life. Let us celebrate Jesus’ coming amongst us with every fibre of our being.