The Wedding Robe of Grace
By now you’re probably aware that Jesus’s parables have a much deeper meaning than the literal story you read or hear. Today we have a parable about a king who wants to have a wedding feast to celebrate his son’s marriage. He sends his servants to call on those who have been invited to the feast but they basically ignore the call.
So the king decides to open the invitation to everyone whom his servants encounter, those who hadn’t been invited, those who apparently were both good and bad people. Now apparently all these folks show up in their wedding robes i.e. dressed for the wedding, except for one man. The king says to this man, “why did you show up without your wedding robes?” The man stands there speechless and the king says to his servants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
So that’s the parable. If we take it really literally, it’s about a wedding. But there are some clues this is about more than a wedding. The first one is the rather strange line that someone who doesn’t show up in the right garb being bound head and foot, thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. That single line invites us to dig for a deeper meaning for the whole parable.
In other parts of Scripture, being thrown into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth refers to life without God. So why would showing up at a wedding without a wedding robe lead one to such a fate? First of all, it’s important to remember how much wedding imagery exists within the whole body or canon of Scripture. We find explicitly historical events in the books of the law in the Old Testament, and in more abstract language in the Prophets. And then in Ephesians we have this: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”
In our OT reading from Isaiah we have this: “ the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.” And listen to how this is echoed in our final book of Scripture, God’s revelation to John: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.”
So now we have some helpful keys: the wedding isn’t a literal wedding that Jesus is referring to. The King, the one with the son, is God the Father. His son is Jesus. The wedding is actually Jesus’s coming into the world, taking his bride, the Church, and through her, working to bring not just Israel, but all people to God the Father i.e. to the King. Those who are invited to the wedding are initially Israel, his chosen people. But they ignore him. So he throws open the doors to everyone who listens and responds. Lest we get too arrogant in being the new people of God, the book of Romans reminds us that we have only been grafted into the original olive tree, Israel, and if we do not remain faithful as gentile Christians, we too might ignore or misinterpret God just as happened so often in Israel.
There is one final thing for us to understand here. Just who is this man not dressed in a wedding gown? The core of God’s revelation to us is this: instead of doing what keeps you comfortable just where you are, risk following me. Faith is not getting what you want, but it is receiving from God what you need so you can participate in his gathering mission.
Like Israel, the man without the wedding robe doesn’t seem to recognize that it is God who has come to him. Perhaps, as we so often do as individuals and as a parish, he doesn’t see that it is God who is calling him because he thinks God’s plans are about giving him what he wants. To expect this is to be unprepared to take up one’s cross to follow Jesus.
In psalm 23 we hear that walking with God, our restoration, will lead us through difficult times; and in those times we are to turn not to our own comfort, but to God’s; to trust in his provision. Jesus’s parable challenges us this morning: Shall we, with the man without a robe, remain in the outer darkness of our own desires? Or are we willing to risk putting on the robe of faith, encountering God where he calls us even if it doesn’t look the way we expect and isn’t what we necessarily desire? AMEN.