Unprepared

by , under church, readings

(Repost from September 2008, 2009 or 2010 because I heard that reading again and had the same questions. I could try the wayback machine or something to figure out exactly when, but that’s too much trouble because it’s about the content, not the circumstances. Minimally edited to merge an ETA and remove dead links.)

Gospel of the 14th Sunday after Pentecost:

Matthew 22:1-14

And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”‘ But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Okay, we already know that this king tends to overreact, burning down a whole city because one person who happens to live there has been involved in seizing and killing his servants. This being a parable, of course, it’s not an ordinary king at all, but (as Christ says explicitly!) an image of God; very close to the the merciless God of the Old Testament, even though the merciful Christ –the son of God and God himself– told this story. It’s the image-of-God that he and his listeners were brought up with, so that’s the obvious thing to start from.

But being so harsh on a man who is probably too poor, or was taken too much by surprise, to dress up for the wedding? As (teenage) Secunda said, “yeah, that’s totally something you have with you in the highway, a wedding garment”. The first sermon I found (now no longer accessible) when searching for different takes on this presupposed that the other guests were wearing wedding garments provided by the bridegroom, or the bridegroom’s father the king, so this man was an impostor. Not underdressed by mistake, or because of haste or poverty, but by design. “While others cheerfully put on this wedding dress the traitor would not; he resolved to defy the rules of the palace, and to insult the king by appearing in his own garments.” Well, yes, makes some sense at least.

Here’s an Orthodox homily by Father James Thornton, too intricate to summarise in a few sentences. He says, basically, that you “put on the wedding garment” when you come to Church for the love of God, not for any worldly reason: yes, that makes even more sense to me. Only, in the next paragraph he explains “putting on the wedding garments” as symbolising preparation for death and judgement. There’s something in that as well, but I’ve read more things recently that saw anything you do in life just as a preparation for death. Very depressing, and against the spirit of optimism that attracted me to Orthodoxy in the first place. I’d much rather try to be worthy of God –to have my wedding garment hanging out ready for when I’m called– before it’s the last call.

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