Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"Dressing for the Occasion"

Matthew 22: 1-14

Ephesians 4: 17-24

      Years ago, I was part of a home Bible study group which was reading the Gospel of Matthew. 

When we got to the passage we’re considering this morning, the leader of our group asked the

question:  “What do you think is the main point of this parable of Jesus?”  After a few moments of
silence and eyes cast to the floor, an elder member of the group blurted out:  “It means you’d better dress

right when you go to church?”  That observation got a few laughs, and nods of agreement, especially from

other elder members who fondly remembered the day when women wore hats and gloves, and men wore suits

and ties to church.  But in all due respect to that elder’s interpretation, that is not the main point of this parable of Jesus.  So what is?

      To wear festive clothing to a wedding in New Testament times was a way of fully engaging in

the celebration; a means of saying that one regarded the occasion as special, and worthy of due

honor.  Arriving in the ordinary clothes of everyday life would have been seen as an insult to the

couple and the family.

      In 2007, I was invited to a celebration of twenty-five years of federal judicial service of the late

Judge David Dowd.  For weeks, I labored over what would be appropriate to wear, especially in

such dignified and respected company.  I even considered buying a new suit.  Instead, I cleaned up

my old one, bought a new shirt and tie, and did my best to reflect in my attire the propriety of the

occasion.  It would certainly have been an affront to Judge Dowd, and to the spirit of the entire

event, had I showed up in my “Eat at Smiley’s” tee shirt and a pair of Dockers. 

      It’s not uncommon for us to sport new duds for big events.  It says something about us, and

about the people and/or occasion we esteem.  It was not so long ago when families saved through

the late winter months in order that everyone in the family – or at least the children – could come

to Easter Sunday worship in brand new clothes.  It was a means of regarding the celebration of the

resurrection of Christ as special and worthy of due honor.

      Along the same lines, if one wants to join in the joy of God’s coming Kingdom, one must put on

a new life.  And it really has nothing to do with what we wear to church, although as an aside, I

think the Lord is due the respect of wearing our “Sunday best,” even if our best happens to be an

“Eat at Smiley’s” tee shirt and a pair of Dockers.

      As Jesus’ story goes, a king was hosting a great wedding feast for his son.  Invitations had been

sent out to a select group some time before.  As there were presumably no RSVP’s in that day,

when the time of the banquet came, it was customary for the host to send out emissaries to call

the invited guests to the banquet hall.  In this case, the invitees “would not come.”  But the king

didn’t give up easily.  He sent another group of servants to plead with them, even enticing them

with some of the benefits of attendance; “oxen….fat calves;” cookies.  Again, this final appeal was

scoffed at, ignored, even responded to with deadly violence by some of those invited.  Understandably,

the king was furious.  After justice had been meted out, the king had a problem.  The tables were set,

the food prepared, the bottles uncorked, the band ready, but no one to come.  So the king sent out his emissaries

yet again; this time, to invite anyone they found on the streets of the city with no consideration of worthiness or

unworthiness.  In no time, the banquet hall was filled.

      As everyone awaited the arrival of the happy couple, the king noticed one guest in particular

who was not wearing a wedding robe.  We might ask, “Well, what if he didn’t have one?  How can

he be held to blame?”  Another custom of that day was that as guests arrived at the banquet, they

would have been provided an appropriate tunic to wear if they had none of their own.  Apparently,

this particular guest simply refused to put it on.  When challenged by the king, the guest had no

 

excuse.  But his unspoken statement was as loud and clear as the responses of those of the original

invitees who refused to attend.  He was subsequently cast out.  Jesus concludes with the statement: 

“For many are called, but few are chosen.”

      Biblical commentators such as Douglas Hare have characterized this parable as “an allegory of

salvation history.”  In its simplest breakdown, the king in the story represents God.  The originally

invited guests represent the Jewish nation, first called into Kingdom relationship with God.  The

wedding feast symbolizes the coming of Jesus Christ.  Those “slaves” sent out with the call to the

banquet can be understood as God’s prophets sent to the Jewish people.  They were ignored,

rejected, even persecuted by the very ones to whom God had sent select invitations.  They in turn

suffered the consequences of their rejection.  The newly-invited, at least in post-Matthean terms,

represent the harlot; the tax collector; the Gentile – all those formerly excluded.  Finally, the inappropriately

attired guest symbolized one who accepts the invitation, but on his own terms.  I

believe the climax of Jesus’ parable (what we might call the “end stress”) holds the key to its interpretation. 

And that is:  if one wants to join in the joy of God’s coming Kingdom, one must put on the attire of a new life.

      You see, those who come to Christ who insist on clinging to the old, tattered rags of sin have no

place in God’s new order.  And it’s by their own choice; on their own terms.  Those who come to

Jesus intending to maintain their old wardrobe of self-reliance, self-centeredness, pridefulness,

rejecting the spiritual resources of the Lord, holding at arm’s length the ministries of the Lord’s  

Church, do not court the pleasure of God.  God will not permit us to wrap ourselves in the guilt and

grief of yesterday’s sin when Christ has come to clothe us in today’s new life.  Putting on a new life

in Christ is not just preacher talk about “pie in the sky, in the sweet by and by.”  It is a tangible

reality.  It is the difference between who we were and who we are, and between who we are and

who we are going to be.  New life in Christ - being re-clothed in Christ, of which the Apostle Paul

writes - is courage for the struggle; faith to face the darkness; hope even in death; joy even in

despair; comfort in loneliness; release from guilt; deliverance from shame.  In concert with the

Philippians passage we once talked about regarding working out our salvation, putting on new life

in Christ is both God’s gift to us, and our response to God’s grace.  We all have the choice to either

accept or reject that gift; that invitation.  If we are serious about following Jesus, then we cannot

continue to dress on our own terms, as comfortable as those clothes may feel.  We are new

creations!  We are being born again from above!  We have shed the old life, and put on the new

apparel of Christ!

      This parable – this allegory of salvation history – raises for we who have been invited some urgent questions.

  Let’s switch to TLC, and an episode of “What Not to Wear.”  What old, unworthy,

spiritual clothing might we be hanging on to?  Do we wear guilt like a hat, bowing our head under

the weight of it; shadowing our face from the warm rays of God’s forgiveness?  Let’s throw it away,

and put on the crown of righteousness.  Do we bundle ourselves in the overcoat of fear, hiding

from the world; afraid to risk ourselves for the sake of others; afraid to touch or be touched?  Let’s

cast off the fear, and put on the crisp robe of faith, trust, and service.  Do we walk in the worn

shoes of old sin and overpowering habits and attitudes?  Let’s kick them off, and slide our feet into

the dancing shoes of the gospel. 

      What brought us here today to this celebration of the good news?  Have we come to join the

party?  To be a part of a massive celebration?  If so, we are more than welcomed.  Whether our

Sunday best is a three-piece suit, or a polo shirt and a pair of Levis, or a tee shirt and a pair of

shorts is not the issue here.  The issue is that the groom has stripped off his grave shroud, and

robed Himself in glory.  Jesus invites us to join Him.  Our party clothes are laid out for us.  If we

don’t have any, they will be provided.  We don’t want to be left out.  We don’t need to be left out. 

So let’s put on the new!  Let’s put on the best!  Let’s put on Christ!

 Gracious God, You invite us into Your Kingdom banquet, and provide us the proper attire for

our new life in Christ, here and now.  Forgive us when we insist on coming to You on our own terms

rather than Yours.   While it’s sometime difficult to shed that which has become so comfortable and

form-fitting, may we allow ourselves to be reclothed in Christ; reclothed in righteousness,

obedience, forgiveness, grace, and love.  We bring this prayer in both humility and sincerity,

in the name of Christ Jesus, our Lord, and our wardrobe advisor.  Amen.

 

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102