r o b e | m a t t h e w 22: 1-14

When the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and so the king said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without wearing a wedding robe?” 

That question from the Parable of the Bridegroom is likely aimed at all us “Pharisees” — at religious people prone to withholding our approval. More watchful than moved. Notably, as Jesus tells this parable, the Pharisees are close at hand. And though they’re clearly drawn to Jesus — and seem to enjoy sparring with him over holy matters — they keep their distance from him. 

It’s as if Jesus is more a theological idea to them than a flesh-and-blood human being. And maybe that’s part of why he tells them this parable: a parable that leans toward the flesh-and-blood mystery of love. Not love in the abstract but love caught up in an actual wedding.  

Right off, we’re to know the bridegroom in this parable is Christ himself, the beloved son of the King, the almighty God and Father of us all. Also present are unnamed guests attended by slaves who work for and belong to the King, slaves who are the agents of his power. Unknown to us, however, is the identity of the bride. 

Who is she? you might wonder.  

Tradition has it Christ is both the bridegroom awaiting his bride the Church and the bridegroom of our individual souls. In relation to Christ the groom, we’re all brides. Or at least our souls are all brides, courted daily by Christ, the lover of all souls.

So, in a sense, you are the missing bride in this story, conceivably the one who will come to Christ when all the guests are present and properly dressed. To see yourself as the bride is to imagine you are in the story waiting on its ultimate consummation, to imagine your union with God is cause for celebration.

On the other hand, you could also be among the unwilling guests. There is, after all, a part of us that gets in the way of love, a part of us afraid of the depths God calls us to. So, conceivably you could be one of those who refuse to enter in: the farmer, for instance, too busy with his cows. Or you could be the one who comes but enters in the wrong clothes. I could, too.   

And let it be said: clothes are significant details in biblical stories. They matter not only at the cross when soldiers cast lots for the clothes of Christ, but also from the beginning of time when Adam and Eve hide in their fig leaves until God has the mercy to dress them in their first clothes. 

On the other side of paradise, those first clothes restored to Adam and Eve not their innocence but their hope in a loving God and their capacity to love in the wake of loss. And clearly, for similar reasons, clothes also matter in our parable today. 

“How did you get in here?” the King asks the guest who forgets to put on a wedding robe.

His question brings us right to the heart of the parable: you’re either all in — and visibly so — or you’re out.  Apparently, there is no room in the kingdom of God for observation. To be in the kingdom is to participate in the life and love of God.

That’s who you are here and now: you are participants, the very guests of God attending the feast of God. To be a guest is to know that while you’re not in charge of God’s love, you yet participate in it.

It’s what the wedding robe signifies: your participation as a guest. Whether from the sacred distance of home, where some of you attend this service by livestream, or within the sacred space of this church, the wedding robe in this parable marks the reality of your life in the mystery of God’s life. It asks you to be “all in.” 

We all know misguided people who pass judgement on the way other people love. People who refuse to come to weddings because they don’t approve of who’s marrying who.  Approval, though, isn’t the deeper calling when you’re invited to a wedding. After all, it’s not an election. It’s a feast: God’s feast.  And what guests are asked to bring is their presence and their prayers. 

Holy participation in the life of another person relies on your presence and your prayers. To pray for other people is intimate work. Prayer draws you close to their cares and their woes. Presence, too, is intimate work, the work of witnessing the life of another with attention and compassion. 

And when you think about it, approval is a shallow cheap gift, easily withheld, costing us nothing really, the sort of thing we grant from the outside looking in on the mystery of life. And yet, when you think about, it might also cost us everything: it might land us outside the feast. 

“And meanwhile,” in the words of Mary Oliver, “the world goes on.” [1]

Thank God for that. The Feast of God carries on with or without us. We are free to decide. 

From the Song of Songs, I hear Love say today, “The king has brought me to his chamber.  . . . He has brought me to the house of wine and his banner over me is love.” [2]

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  1. A line from Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese

2. Translation by Robert Alter

a story at the intersection of Eastertide and COVID-19

Story note: I wrote and illustrated this story at the unexpected intersection of COVID-19 and the feasts of Passover and Easter. I was inspired by the gospel accounts of an empty tomb marking the Resurrection, by St. Mary Magdalene not seeing what she came looking for in the Gospel according to John, by a second coming hidden away in the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples, and by a rabbinic story about forgetting and sufficiency in The Poetry of Kabbalah, translated by Peter Cole, Yale University Press, 2012, 241. LFB