What a hope there is in the vision of Isaiah! Food for the hungry. Vintage wine for the parched spirit. An end to death for ever. No more war, no more shame, no more humiliation, no more violence, no more poverty. For every suffering of Isaiah’s exiled and defeated people he promises an opposite joy. Quite a hope!
Does it seem like that today when we read the newspaper or look around our neighbourhoods? Is life a banquet or is the table empty? Is this a time of feasting or a time of mourning?
According to the Gospel the Kingdom of God which is among us now is a banquet — and not merely a good meal but a royal wedding feast. At least for the new guests invited in from all over this is, as Isaiah said, a time to be glad and rejoice. But, like all parables, the story has a catch — just as we begin to congratulate ourselves on being in the door, feet under the table, it seems we are to be unsettled again. Just as we thought this was a free invitation with no strings attached it turns out that there is a dress code and our place at the table may not be as secure as we thought. The banquet may not be for us.
Matthew is giving a dual message: as Christians we have been given the Kingdom but we can each of us lose it too. The invitation is open — and good and bad alike answer it but it turns out that not all can stay. We have to be “properly dressed,” whatever that means. Some sorts of conduct will get us thrown out of the party. There is something we have to do if we want to be able to face the King and not be left speechless. We have to have this wedding robe. What does Matthew mean?
Now, in Matthew’s portrait of Jesus, he is the last one to worry about external appearance — he’s always telling off the Pharisees for doing just that. For Jesus it’s the inside that matters not the outside. So the wedding robe can’t be about appearance. It must be something more.
Why do we get out our best clothes, all cleaned and pressed, to go to a party? Some who read this story say that the problem here is a lack of respect — that the guy here insults the King by not dressing properly. But that hardly sound like Jesus either: Jesus who mixes with traitors and prostitutes and lepers; Jesus who is blamed for being a low-class Galilean himself. Jesus is not likely to take that sort of offence.
So what’s this wedding robe all about? My guess is this. If the kingdom of heaven — the Christian way of life now — is meant to be a wedding banquet — the reality of all that Isaiah dreamed of — then the wedding clothes signify the willingness to live life as if it were a feast.
Think of the best wedding party you’ve been to and what made it so good. Laughter and solemnity, dancing and depth, conversation and communion, oh, and food more than you can eat, and drink enough to intoxicate an army! This is Jesus’ vision of our life now. The best — open to all people and with someone else footing the bill. All you have to do is turn up and enjoy yourself.
What’s the worse thing you can do at a wedding party? … Not enjoy yourself. Be miserable, wear a long face, turn down the food, refuse the wine. That’s our man in the story today. When he is asked by the King how he got in without his good clothes he has nothing to say. He is speechless. The word is literally “muzzled” — like a dog. And that says a lot. With a muzzle there’s no eating or drinking, no laughing or kissing, no words of praise or forgiveness, no song.
The invitation is made to each of us, to all of us — good and bad alike — and here we are — we’ve each accepted and come to the feast. But are we wearing our wedding robe or a muzzle? Are we enjoying ourselves? That’s the question that makes all the difference.