The story is told of a rather self-important man who made it his mission to visit the Sunday school classes in his church each week. Often teachers were a little intimidated by him sitting there in silent judgment. One young woman nervously asked him if he would like to speak a few words to the class. Of course he would like to! So he stood in front of the little ones, and he said, "Why do you suppose people call me a Christian?"
No one answered. Nobody moved. So he asked again: "Why do you think people call me a Christian?" Silence! Blank stares.
"Come on!" he said. "Somebody can give me an answer! Why do people call me a Christian?"
Finally one small hand worked its way hesitantly above a young head. He pointed expectantly toward the girl. "Why do you suppose people call me a Christian?" he asked her.
"Maybe," she said with a tremor in her voice, "because they don’t really know you!”
Rick Warren, the author of the book, The Purpose Driven Life said, “God is far more interested in your character than he is your comfort, or your career, because you’re not taking your career to heaven, but you are taking your character.” God is not looking for our worldly reputation but he is looking for our Christian characters. And the Wedding Garment mentions in the Gospel parable this Sunday is the character that God is looking for among the guests. Jesus explains, “The Kingdom of Heaven may be likened to a King who gave a wedding feast for his son.” The King sent invitation to the invited guests.
Sadly, the invited guests ignored the invitation and continue their personal lives. Some even mistreated and killed the king’s servants. In anger, the king destroyed those who had refused the invitations and sent his servants out into the main roads to invite to the feast whomever they could find, “bad and good alike.”
Jesus is expressing his disappointment with those who refuse or ignore God’s invitation to this wedding feast of his Son, or attack the messengers who extend the invitation on behalf of the King. This signify all who are indifferent to God’s will or reject him in Jesus Christ. These people will be left out of the kingdom. We don’t have to talk about these people today; because they are not here and they don’t hear us. We are talking about us who have responded to the invitation. We come to the feast from all corners of the streets, “bad and good alike.”
Jesus gives us an impression that the king sounds a great sense of openness and acceptance to take in both the “good and the bad”. At the end of the parable however, it sounds very unfair when the king demands to throw out a man sitting in the room without a wedding garment. The “wedding garment” therefore, is the issue. What is the “garment?” And where would he get one if the servants you just invited him in from the street?
According to the Jewish custom, at the wedding feast, the host would give each guest a wedding garment when he came in. So everyone should have taken one and put it on to attend the feast. This man did not have the garment on. Imagine how arrogant a person must have been if he refused to put on the garment offered to him. So it is not because the man did not have the garment. It is because he refused to put one on.
Today we have analogous situation. The Eucharist in the Catholic Church is the feast. God is inviting us to participate in this feast of the Kingdom. He gives us kind of a wedding garment. Some experts in scripture write that it is Baptism. The Sacrament of Baptism is our wedding garment. This Sacrament makes us member of Christ’s body and qualifies us to participate in the feast. But Saint Augustine argues that “It is true that no one comes to God except through baptism, but not every baptized person comes to Him. We cannot take Baptism as the wedding garment; for it is a robe worn not only by good people but also by wicked people … Some bad people also go to church. Whatever can this wedding garment be, then? For an answer we must go to the Apostle, who says: The purpose of our command is to arouse the love that springs from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith. There is your wedding garment.”1
The wedding garment then is the “state of grace.” Living in the state of grace means that we are wearing the wedding garment. A person is allowed to be at the wedding feast is the one who is in the state of Grace. A person lives in the state of grace has the love that springs from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, this state of grace is the proper attire to attend the feast in the Kingdom of God. Saint Paul clarifies, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have no love, I am nothing but a booming gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, if I have knowledge and understand all mysteries, if I have faith strong enough to move mountains, but have no love, I am nothing. In other words, even with all these gifts I am nothing without Christ.2 At the feast of the Kingdom, every guest is expected to wear this Garment of love united in Christ. This garment is Christian character.
Saint Paul wrote in Romans, "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature" (Rom 13:14). And in First Corinthians, "The perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:53). In Colossians, we read, "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12). Finally, in First Peter we are admonished, "All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble'" (1 Peter 5:5). Being clothed anew is a consistent New Testament expression for holiness and righteousness. The old clothes have to come off and new ones put on.
This Gospel parable confronts us with the paradox of God's free invitation to the banquet with no strings attached and God's requirement of "putting on" something appropriate to that calling. We are warned of the dire consequences of accepting the invitation and doing nothing except showing up.3
Today many people have failed to put on the “state of grace.” They refuse to believe in Jesus. They refuse to cooperate with God’s grace. They refuse to be washed again through ‘confessions.” Many people choose not to wear the garment of the state of grace, not to fulfill the duties of their state in life. They choose to reject the grace of God. Yet they expect to be fully accepted and allowed to be counted among the guests in the kingdom of God. In these days many people say they don’t have to take the teachings of the Church seriously. They have the right to dissent. They don’t have to keep the commandments. It is old fashion to do so. They want to think for themselves. There is a new morality, a new age, and conforming to God’s will is old fashion. According to the parable, Jesus, however, is saying it clearly, “No! You can’t. You have to put on the garment.” He is asking every one of us, “My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment? I have given you one!” The Eucharist is the Feast in the Kingdom of God. We are expected to wear our garments for this feast. The garment is the State of Grace in our souls and our united love in Christ.