“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
- Isaiah 61:10
When I read the Gospel for this Sunday I thought: How unfair that a king would pull some random person off the street, expecting him to be dressed in royal banquet finery, and then throw him out when they realize he’s wearing jogging pants and sneakers! With so much rightly-focused attention on social justice these days, it’s hard not to see every story as yet another example of racial or gender or economic disparity. There is something happening culturally in this Gospel story that we can easily miss.
This story, this wedding feast, is about an invitation: the invitation God extends to us time after time, in our lives and throughout history, prophet after prophet after prophet, culminating his is very Son.
At a wedding feast in ancient Palestine, the bride and groom’s families would invite all the most honorable, worthy people, and the presence of those honorable, worthy people would honor and make worthy the wedding couple. In the parable, all the “worthy” people are invited, and they refuse the invitation, so others, the “unworthy” people, are gathered together, and the king graciously believes that they, too, can honor and make worthy the wedding couple and their families.
At a wedding feast in ancient Palestine, a special garment, something like a sash, would be handed to the guests as they entered the banquet hall. Guests wore this garment to honor the couple, and show their approval of the match, to visualize the unity of their community. There’s one guest, however, Jesus tells us, who was invited in just like everyone else, would not wear that special garment, and would not honor his hosts. He shunned the offer of community and of love.
One of my friends told me a story from his rowdy college days. He had just finished his freshman year, and wanted to enjoy his new-found freedom. He decided to get a local job instead of going home for the summer, but he didn’t own a car, and couldn’t get to work without one. And he certainly couldn’t afford one. So, this was a problem.
There was this couple from the local parish who had taken him in, sort of adopted him. They made sure he had a home-cooked meal every now and then, and maybe some pocket money to go to the movies and blow off some steam. Well this couple, his “adopted grandparents,” decided to help him out with his transportation problem, and told him they would loan him their spare car for the summer: a classic, cherry red, 1966 mustang convertible.
As you can imagine, my friend had a great summer. He drove his friends everywhere, going on road trips and dates, feeling very cool. He loved that car.
When the summer was over, and it was time to return the mustang. He was busy getting ready for school, moving into a new apartment, and the couple was out of town at their cabin. So, he left the car in the driveway—remembering to put the top up!—put the keys through the mail slot, and then carried on with his busy life.
A couple of weeks later, he got an email from the couple. It said that they were very disappointed in him. The car had been returned dirty, not just the outside, but within the cab, too. He’d left garbage, old McDonalds bags in the backseat, and empty cups in the cupholders. The gas tank was empty. The state of the car was forgivable, the email read, and could be chalked up to a college student learning how to be a responsible adult, but one thing especially had hurt them: the lack of a “thank you.” In his hurry, my friend hadn’t slipped a note through the mail slot with the keys, hadn’t called, or shot out an email. He had forgotten to thank them.
The tricky thing with love, even God’s love, is that it comes with a cost. We’re only human, and so we fail in love, and because of this we feel unworthy, we ignore it, we feel entitled to it, we slough it off, we gnash our teeth against it. Eventually, we get so good at this we begin to live without it, wondering where it has gone, waiting for that next chance.
St. Paul wrote, “In your baptism, you have put on Christ [like a garment].” It is freely offered to us, easily slipped over the shoulder and worn, and yet how often do we feel the weight of what it asks of us? How often do we wish to pull it off live a life that is cheap and easy, a life in which we don’t have to pay the cost, or live up to the expectations of love.
We have all been invited. The wedding feast between heaven and earth is happening even now, all around us. So, here’s what I’d like you to consider during your week: If we have truly put on Christ in our baptism, if we are clothed in Christ like a wedding garment, how does that change who we are, and how does it change what we do, how we treat others, how we move within the world? In other words, what does it cost us?
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog