You know the parable about the wedding feast don’t you? That’s right, it’s the one where the people are invited come up with lots of excuses for why they cannot attend on the day. Do you know how it ends? You might assume that it ends with all the people brought in from the highways and by-ways to the party but it doesn’t. Well, not in Matthew’s version. We are probably most familiar with Luke’s telling of the story in Luke 14:15-24. However, Matthew 22:1-14 includes some additional details.
First notice, that not only did people make their excuses but they also seized and killed the king’s servants. The king acts by sending his troops to destroy the rebels and their city. Their refusal to come to the wedding is not mere thoughtlessness but an act of defiance against the King (v6-7).
Secondly, where Luke’s account finishes with the order to go out into the streets and find people to come in, Matthew continues:
11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
We told this parable at a recent all age service and the reaction of the children was fascinating. They did not think it was fair for the king to make the man change his clothes or to throw him out when he refused (and we didn’t even get into he details about “outer darkness” and “gnashing of teeth”). Shouldn’t the guests have been free to choose what they wanted to wear, what they felt comfortable in, even if the king was offering new clothes because he cared about them and wanted them to have a good time?
That really is the tone of our culture. Autonomy is key and the worst thing you can do is to deny another person that, even if you intend them good. Yet, Scripture goes against that dominant view when it comes to God. Not only is God permitted to disagree with us but also to override our wishes.
The exchange (or non-exchange) of clothes, however has something important to say about the Gospel and here is why it was crucial in the story, that the man changed into the wedding garment. It’s about what they represented.
The man has come in off the street suggesting he may have even been a vagabond or a criminal (“both bad and good” are welcomed). We are, I think, meant to poicture him there in his tattered, smelly rags, not exactly pleasant for the other guests. However, regardless of their state, it is what they represented that mattered. His old clothes represent his old life outside of the palace as the kind of person who would not usually be allowed there. They represent the sin that clothes us, which prevents us from drawing near to God.
Getting rid of his old clothes was meant to signify that he had left that old life behind. Indeed, the point I suspect is that the place of “outer darkness” was also where the old clothes were going. If he wanted to cling onto them, then he would be thrown out with the rest.
The new clothes remind us that Christ clothes us with robes of righteousness, indeed, he clothes us with himself. The story points us towards the doctrines of imputed righteousness and justification. We exchange our old life of sin for our new life in Christ.
The heavenly banquet then, is a place where no sin, no evil, no greed, temper, murder, theft, gossip, lies, bitterness and hate has a place. Those things are to be left behind, thrown out-side. So, we either belong inside with righteousness or outside with sin.