Put on the Clothes of Christ
By Bishop Chris Giesler
There is a new way to purchase clothes online. You fill out a form with your measurements and style preferences, and every month, Stitch Fix.com will send you five articles of clothing for you to try on. Of course, you have to pay $20 per order for the stylist to make the choices, and then you have to pay for the clothes you want to keep. My wife will tell you that I hate shopping for clothes because stores rarely stock pants with inseams less than 30 inches, and I am more like 29. I will see lots of clothes that I like, but they won’t have my size. So, the idea of allowing somebody else to pick out my clothes for me is rather interesting. I’m not sure I will like the price, however.
Our gospel lesson for this week offers us an interesting look at clothing choices. First, let’s remind ourselves that Jesus here is telling a parable. It is not to be taken literally but figuratively. Let me repeat: this is a parable from which Jesus is trying to teach us something! And in this parable, a king throws a wedding banquet for his son. Advanced invitations had already been sent to put people on notice. Then, when everything was ready, the king sent out messengers to tell the invited guests that the time had come, the table had been prepared, come and enjoy the feast. But these first guests make light of the invitation, giving excuses that they are busy with life or decline the offer and mistreat the messengers who have brought the invitation. The king is enraged and sends forth troops who burn down their city and sends out his messengers once again to invite any and all who would come to the banquet. As the parable goes, one of these guests shows up but does not wear the wedding garment that had been sent out. Different cultures have different ways of doing things. In Jesus’ day, when a wealthy person sent out wedding invitations, they also sent garments for people to wear for this very special occasion. It was expected that each guest would show their respect to the host by wearing the garment that had been gifted to them. The parable goes on to say that the person who refused to wear the garment was forcibly removed from the banquet and cast into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Again, let me remind you that this is a parable. Jesus is using standard cultural norms and stereotypes to illustrate a facet of what the kingdom of God looks like. While doing this, we must not get too caught up in things like a rather quick-tempered king and wedding practices of the day. These are here to help Jesus deliver the message that he intends.
First of all, let’s look at the invitation itself. First, the invitation goes out to a focused group of guests. This would have been the norm of Jesus’ day as it is for us; we welcome family and our best friends to our weddings. Today, I know that couples agonize at where to make the cut on the invitation list, especially when they realize that it might cost them over $100 per guest for the reception dinner. For this king, his inner circle doesn’t seem to be receptive. While many commentators have speculated that Jesus included this facet of the parable to condemn the Jewish leadership of his day for not accepting him, but let’s look deeper. Let’s point this at ourselves since we are the ones dealing with the text. When have we received an invitation to be a part of the community of faith or to serve others in Jesus’ name and refused to come? When have we said, “I’m too busy”?
The king then expands the invitation list to EVERYONE: the rich, the poor; the in, and the out. But as the party begins, it becomes evident that one of the guests has not heeded the invitation to wear the garment that had been gifted to them. Again, we can be shocked at the harsh punishment that the man receives, but the king in the parable is playing the part, and the kings of his day would have acted similarly. The bottom line is that all guests had received their garment as a gift; all guests should have known to wear it. It would be like somebody showing up to a Green Bay Packers game wearing a Chicago Bears jersey.
But again, this is a parable, certainly not a lesson about how a king should behave, nor what clothes we should wear to a wedding banquet. It is a parable about responding to God’s call and using the gifts that we have been given.
Just as that first invitation went out and was largely ignored by the recipients, we must ponder how easy it is to say no to invitations to serve others. Jesus told another parable about religious leaders passing by on the other side when confronted with someone in need. Remember, it was the Samaritan who stopped and took care of the injured man. While we must be careful about overextending ourselves and being mindful of burnout, we must also not shy away from opportunities to serve others.
This is the same message that we get concerning the man not wearing the wedding garment. Again, this garment had been given to him already; wearing it to the banquet required no investment. Jesus is not talking about clothes here; he is talking about using what we have been given for the good of others. The garments of our time, the garments of our heart, the garments of our vocation, the garments of compassion.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians is very instructive here as he writes, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you”. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul gives us another good list. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
These are the clothes of Christ. Let us wear them as we seek to serve others and build up the kingdom of God.