“When the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe . . . Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness…’” – Matthew 22:11,13 (NRSV)
There are some parables that are pretty straightforward: a certain character in the story corresponds to a certain kind of person in real life. Another character symbolizes God, and a particular item stands for a given virtue. The correspondences seem clear and precise. Sometimes, we even get served a dimwitted disciple who will require a detailed explanation from Jesus just to be sure we understand.
This passage is emblematic of this style. It involves a king, a wedding, a bunch of people who don’t show up, and a bunch of people recruited at the last minute. Interpreting it is easy: the ones born into a close relationship with God don’t value it as they should; God invites everybody else to the party. Boom.
But then one of the guys invited off the street at the last minute gets in trouble for not having the right outfit for the wedding he’d been surprise-invited to. Jeez. Like we all wear evening gowns on our way to pick up milk just in case we get invited to a gala.
Ever since, people have been wondering: what is the wedding robe? What is the outfit we’re supposed to wear to the feast?
For what it’s worth, Augustine, Luther, and Calvin all disagreed on what it was. But maybe you know? Maybe you’re the one to whom the answer has been vouchsafed from on high? If so, or even if you just think you might be, how about you go on over to Facebook and tell us what it is? Because some people don’t care what they wear to a party, but some of us really hate to be underdressed.
For inscrutable parables, Jesus, no thanks. For opportunities to wonder together, we praise your name. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is Chaplain of the Protestant Cooperative Ministry at Cornell University. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.