Today’s gospel passage is one that used to really bother me. The king sees a wedding guest who is not wearing the proper clothing and has him bound hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness. I understood that the wedding garments had been provided for the guests and failure to wear the wedding garment was a sign of disrespect, but I was still uncomfortable with what I thought was an emphasis on wearing the “right” clothes. Today, I am reading the story in a whole new light.
In biblical times, wedding garments were not provided for all the guests to appease the aesthetic sensibilities of the bride and groom. These simple robes were provided for all of the guests so that everyone could mingle freely, as equals. The wedding garments covered any distinctions of rank or wealth. They provided a form of protection to those of lower rank, allowing them to participate fully, in a way that might not be possible if those of higher social standing could tell at a glance that they were “less important.”
The gospel story does not tell us why this particular guest chose not to wear the offered wedding garment, but I found myself wondering if his reason was that he was a person of significance and he wanted to distinguish himself from the “riff raff” who had been invited in. I could imagine him thinking that he did not need a wedding garment because everyone else would be happy to interact with him. I imagine someone who did not want to hide his own finery under a simple wedding robe.
But when the king enters the room, he is not impressed by this man who stands out because of his dress. The king only sees a man who is more concerned for his own comfort than he is for the comfort of anyone else in the room.
This parable seems particularly relevant in today’s world, when all of us are being asked to put on a simple garment that will enable the more vulnerable among us to interact more freely. It would be more comfortable for many of us to make decisions about where we will go, who we will interact with and when we will or will not wear a mask, based solely upon our own level of risk and perhaps the level of risk of those closest to us. Like the wedding guest that I have imagined, we could tell ourselves that the standards in place don’t really apply to us. Perhaps masks don’t fit with our wardrobe preferences and we are at a low level of risk for any lasting harm even if we go about bare faced. But before we make a decision based on our individual rights and freedoms, this parable calls us to think again about the fact that all of us are guests in God’s world, and as guests we are called to place ourselves on an equal footing with all of the other guests, including those whose needs are much greater than our own.
An excerpt from a prayer posted by the Ursuline Sisters of Chatham:
A Prayer as I put on my mask……
Creator, as I prepare to go into the world, help me to see the sacrament in the wearing of this cloth. Let it be “an outward sign of an inward grace” – a tangible and visible way of living love for my neighbors, as I love myself. Christ, since my lips will be covered, uncover my heart, that people would see my smile in the crinkles around my eyes. Since my voice may be muffled, help me to speak clearly, not only with my words but with my actions. May this simple piece of cloth be shield and banner, and each breath that it holds be filled with your love.