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.
Another charming story from Jesus, one nobody would ever preach on if it could be avoided. We don't like this one. Is this our Jesus, the one who said Let the children come to me? and Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden? Because that's the Jesus we want: the one who ate with sinners and so made us confident that we would not be turned away, either? That's the Jesus we like -- the nice one. This one, who tells a story in which a man is bound and tossed into he outer darkness because he's not dressed properly, sounds like the old time religion we'd just as soon forget.
It's such an un-Jesus moment to us that it dominates the story for us, and becomes the most memorable part of it. We are transfixed: What was he thinking? What does it mean? Why on earth is it there? And what am I going to say about it?
But the man without a wedding garment comes at the end of a story is about people being invited to a wedding and choosing not to come, and others then being invited and choosing to attend. This isn't really a story all about that man and his problems: when we take off on a discussion of whether or not he was too poor to buy a wedding garment, or what this may say about Jesus' concern about conventional manners, we miss the point. This is a story, not a commandment about wedding etiquette for the ages. It is a metaphor for God's gift and the human receiving of it, and it reminds us of an important fact about gifts: we don't have to accept them. You can take a bouquet of flowers from the hand of the giver and throw them on the ground if you want to. You can give that awful sweater to the thrift shop if you want to. You can give them the gorgeous cashmere one, too, if you want to -- it's your sweater now. You can take the airline tickets to Hawaii someone gave you and toss them into the trash can if you want to -- nobody's going to make you go to Hawaii. You may have gift tickets, but you don't have to get on the plane. Go ahead -- don't go to Hawaii. Stay in New Jersey. Be my guest.
That's what the wedding garment is: the decision to rejoice in the presence of God. Heaven knows we sorrow easily enough at all the hardness to which we are heir. But sometimes we face unexpected joy --a party to which we didn't think we would be invited, but were. We can be unready for it, unable to see it precisely because life is often so hard.
Nobody has to have a closer walk with God. You can walk alone if you choose to. You can attend a wedding reception as if it were a funeral if you want to.
But why would you?
Pentecost 22, Proper 23
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23