Are you wearing the right clothing?
In today’s parable, a man is thrown out of a wedding banquet for not meeting the dress code. A king invites a bunch of people to a wedding feast, but when they fail to show up, the king invites a bunch of random people off the street to come to the banquet instead. As everyone takes their seats, the king enters and sees someone not wearing a wedding robe. “How did you get in here without a robe?” the king asks. The man makes no reply and so the king throws him out.
As I pondered this parable, I found it interesting not that the man is thrown out, but that he has no wedding robe. It’s an odd detail. Nowhere in the parable do we hear that a wedding robe is required. The slaves go into the streets to gather anyone they can find for the banquet. We hear that both the good and the bad are assembled, which, I would imagine, is a motley assortment. Would they all really have wedding robes? Would they all have had time to go home and get them if they did? Or were they perhaps handed their wedding robe at the door?
Whatever the case, it seems there is only one person in the whole assembly who is without a robe. The king sees him and asks him why. Curiously, the man makes no reply. He could have said: “Well, sir, I don’t own one!” or he could have said “well, sir, I didn’t have time to run home and get it!” or he could have said “well, sir, when they were handing them out at the door, they must have missed me!” or perhaps he could have said, “well, sir, I don’t have one, but would you kindly let me borrow one?”
But instead the man in speechless, silent. Why? I’m led to believe that he is speechless because he cannot think of a good, plausible excuse. The truth, it seems, is too shameful to speak. Perhaps the man was given a robe at the door and then just neglected to put it on. Maybe he did have time to go home and get it, he just didn’t bother to. His attitude, perhaps, is not that different than the original wedding guests, who neglected their invitations and went back to their lives. And so the man is kicked out.
So what’s the big deal? Is it simply that the man was under-dressed? Or is the robe itself significant?
As I pondered these questions, I decided to skim through the rest of the New Testament to see if clothes were important anywhere else. There are lots of instances of people putting on robes throughout the Bible, but some examples go beyond simple clothing.
In First and Second Corinthians, Paul urges his congregation to “put on” immortality (1 Cor. 15:53; 2 Cor. 5:1-4). For Paul, it seems, the resurrection is like a garment we can wear over our current body, transforming it into something new. In his letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians, Paul will actually tell his congregations to clothe themselves with a new self (Col. 3:10, Eph. 4:24).
In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells those early Christians to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light (Romans 13:12). And in Ephesians, Paul urges those people to, “put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). There seems to be some spiritual clothing that protects us against evil.
Similar to the armor language, Paul also encourages his people to put on various virtues as though they were clothing. Throughout his letters he tells people to “put on” righteousness, holiness, truth, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, faith, love, and the hope of salvation (Eph. 4:24, 6:14, Colossians 3:12, 1 Thes. 5:8). It is as though we could wear our good works on our sleeves.
But above all these images, there is one image that stood out to me. In Galatians, and similarly in Romans (13:14), Paul says this: “You who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:27, paraphrase). Paul speaks of Jesus as though he were a garment we could wear. All the talk about putting on armor or putting on virtues or putting on immortality or a new self, they are all bound up in this one image: putting on Christ.
So how exactly do we “put on Christ”?
When Paul talks about putting on Christ in Galatians, he does so in the midst of a conversation about faith. He says that once upon a time we were only saved if we kept the law; but then Jesus came and now we are saved by our faith. Now, he says, in Christ “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus…heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:28-29). To “put on Christ,” Paul says, is to find your identity only in Jesus.
We wear the robe of Christ when we have faith. We wear the robe of Christ when we find our value in God’s grace, not the works of our own hands. We wear the robe of Christ when we trust in God. When you “put on Christ,” everything you are and everything you believe and everything you do is bound up in him.
The ancient church used to baptize people naked. They would take off their old robe and walk down into the water. After they were baptized, they would be wrapped in a white robe symbolizing their new life in Christ. This is why I often wear a white robe during worship. It would be better, though, if we all wore white robes together; because in your baptism, Paul says, you have put on a new self the way you put on a new robe. In your baptism Christ has come as close to you as the clothes on your back. In baptism, he is wrapped around you forever.
Andrew Peterson sings about this baptismal garment in his song, “Hosanna.” He says, “I have struggled to remove this raiment / tried to hide every shimmering strand.” We often think of our salvation as though it were a robe that we were trying so hard to put on. But here, Peterson shows us the truth that we are already wearing the robe; the problem is that we are constantly trying to take it off. Or to put it another way, we have already been saved by grace, but we often spend our days acting like we haven’t.
In my moments of deepest shame, the robe of Christ doesn’t quite seem to fit. I forget that my identity lies, not in all the shameful things I’ve done, but in Jesus; and in that forgetfulness, I try to take off the robe. Or when I get into that mood where I feel like I’m not doing enough, I try to take off the robe of Christ because I forget that my identity lies not in all the things that I do, but in what Christ has done for me. Or when I get all puffed up with pride for how awesome I think I am, I try to take off the robe of Christ because it seems far too humble for my greatness; and in that moment I forget that all my accomplishments amount to nothing in the face of what Christ has accomplished for me.
The struggle of the Christian life is not in that we can’t seem to put on the robe of Christ; it’s that we can’t stop trying to take it off. But God desires for us to keep it on, because when we “put on Christ” as Paul says, then we can know our true selves; we can finally see ourselves the way God sees us.
So what are you wearing today? Are you wrapped in the robe of Christ? Or are you fighting to take it off?
In today’s parable, a man is kicked out of the banquet because he is not wearing his robe. For whatever reason, he has not been able to accept the grace, compassion, and mercy of God. Maybe he is still bogged down in his own shame; maybe he is too caught up in his own works; maybe he is too puffed up with pride. Whatever the case, the robe is nowhere to be found.
But he is not you. He is not me. We wear our robes, given to us in our baptisms; and though some days we may try to take them off, they are still wrapped around us. In those moments when you feel you need God’s grace, remember that you have “put on Christ” and his mercy surrounds you like a warm blanket. In those moments when you find yourself trying to take off the robe of Christ because your shame or your anxiety or your pride make it seem like it doesn’t fit right, stop. Stop trying to take it off. Leave it on, and you will find that the longer you wear God’s grace, the better it will fit. Amen.