At various times I've had this recurring dream. I would be somewhere out in public and find myself missing one or more pieces of clothing. From my reading about dreams I learned that I am not alone in such dreams. It's a bit unnerving until I wake up and realize it's only a dream.
I don't know the psychological reason for such a dream, and I don't really care. I'm not someone who desires to go out of the house naked, and I generally think it's a rather bad idea. But I'm reminded of being found without adequate clothing by one of Christ's parables.
In our modern ways of thinking we’d like to pretend that our choices and actions don’t matter all that much, but this parable shows that simply isn’t true.
In the parable, Jesus tells of a king who prepares a great marriage feast for his son. None of the first round of invitees is willing to come, and a second group is invited. While everyone who comes is sitting at the tables enjoying the occasion, one man is singled out for attention because he does not have on the right garments.
"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" (Matthew 22:11-12). It doesn't say he was naked, but he was missing something. He did not have on a wedding garment.
Why is the matter of proper dress at a wedding so important? It's important because the man was making a statement against what the marriage feast represented. His presence was an intolerable offense.
I know this seems like an overreaction to a modern mind. Dress at any formal event today is more casual than it once was. To understand what we are dealing with here, let's back up into the story.
A king's marriage for his son
The rest of this parable is a straightforward story that begins like many of the others—"The kingdom of heaven is like . . ." In this case it's like a king who arranges a marriage for his son and sends out invitations. A wedding celebration given by a king is quite an important event. His son is a prince, and such an affair demands attention.
The big royal weddings of our time command a lot of attention. Two years ago Prince William, the grandson of England's Queen Elizabeth II, was married in Westminster Abbey while the whole world watched. Many who were not invited would have paid a princely sum to get in the door of that wedding.
Because of the interest shown in a modern royal wedding, it's hard to understand in this parable why some would reject the invitation. But it says, "They were not willing to come" (Matthew 22:3). Even when the event was described—a menu of prime rib, steaks and all you can eat, and dancing to a full orchestra under the stars on the palace grounds—they still wouldn't come.
The king's servants, sent to encourage them to attend, were seized by them and treated in a shameful manner, showing great dishonor to the king. The wrath of the king was kindled to a white-hot fury: "But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city" (Matthew 22:7-8).
The marriage feast would still go on, regardless of the fact that those invited would not attend. The king decreed that the invitation go out "into the highways," giving people everywhere from all walks of life, "both good and bad," opportunity to attend the marriage of his son and the planned festivities. This was an unprecedented invitation. People from all nations were given opportunity to choose to come, or not, to the marriage feast. In this parable is profound teaching.
A calling to salvation
God's calling or invitation is not a light matter. The calling to salvation, pictured here by the glory of a marriage feast, is a beautiful, precious and once-in-a-lifetime matter. It's why the garment, or lack of one, was such an issue for the king.
The garment is important to understand. And the attitude of the guest in not wearing the garment is also important. Let's first look at what the garment represents.
This is where it gets easy because the Bible tells us exactly what the garment of this parable means. Revelation 19 states: "And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, 'Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.' And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints" (Revelation 19:6-8)
There it is, spelled out for us. At this marriage of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, to His Bride the Church, she has put on "fine linen," which is defined as "the righteous acts of the saints." It is all about personal righteousness—good decisions made by the individual (and the Church is made up of people) that put together a seamless life of godly character and good works. This requires repenting of sin, accepting the sacrifice of Christ to purge our sins, and receiving God's Holy Spirit to enable us to live in obedience to God's laws.
The Bible uses clothing as an analogy to show how we "put on" behavior that is pleasing to God.
Notice how the apostle Paul describes this in a passage where he teaches how to put off bad habits and put on good habits: "But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:20-24).
One piece at a time
The apostle Peter writes of resisting Satan and being "clothed with humility" (1 Peter 5:5). Every morning we get out of bed and dress for the day. We put our clothing on one piece at a time, starting with undergarments and progressing to shirts and pants and skirts. Character is likewise put on one piece at a time—one action at a time.
Some things are easier than others. If you have had anger issues for years, it can be very hard to change to a calmer, less agitated nature, but it can be done.
If you are filled with pride and lacking humility, just a single intense trial can reshape the self-image to a flattened, less inflated one. Ask anyone who has lost a job or gone through a life-changing event.
Character can be altered. But it requires that we have a deep desire to change.
Researchers who study the mechanics of human behavior have concluded that a person will be more likely to change a behavior when an emotional level is reached. Another way to put this is that we change when the heart is touched. It's usually only then that lasting change can be created in a person's life. Thus, one must come to the point where he or she has a desire to change for any hope of a new "garment" to be worn.
And with that desire we must also have commitment to follow through.
With this in mind, we return to the guest at the supper who was found to be lacking the right garment. This man did not have on the right garment by choice. Knowing what was required, he nonetheless willfully chose to come to the marriage feast without wearing the right clothing. Further, he was determined not to put on these garments.
He was defiantly opposing the king and all the king represented. He was opposing everything the marriage feast represented. He was also aligning himself with the opposition—those who had initially refused to accept the invitation. Here was a willfully defiant attitude of the deepest kind.
When confronted by the king he had nothing to say. There really was nothing for him to say. He knew the consequences of violating the dress code.
The king's pronouncement is chilling: "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'" (Matthew 22:13). It is a severe penalty. The outer darkness indicates a time of judgment. God will judge the world in righteousness, and all who hold defiant attitudes like the one described here will face a time of reckoning.
The judgment comes for not wearing the right garment—or having a frame of mind that God cannot reach. It is an awful matter to consider. This is one of the harder aspects of Christ's teaching. It is sobering to consider and realize that our actions have consequences. In our modern ways of thinking we'd like to pretend that our choices and actions don't matter all that much and that everything is relative, but this parable shows that simply isn't true.
Many are called, but few are chosen
The parable concludes with a statement from Christ that "many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14). The word "chosen" here applies to those who not only receive a call, but willingly choose to come, being sure they are dressed with the right garment, and remain committed to the Kingdom of God. To them the Kingdom means everything. They are willing pay any price, make any sacrifice, and remain committed for life to God and His values.
In this parable the king represents God the Father and the king's son is of course Jesus Christ. Those invited to the marriage feast are those God invites to prepare now, in this lifetime, for His Kingdom, which will be established on the earth when Christ returns. To accept this invitation is to become a "lifer." You are in for the duration, with no intention or option of quitting. This Kingdom, this feast, becomes your all.
I wake up from my dreams relieved to not be found out in public naked. How about you? Are you missing a garment while thinking you are all dressed and ready? This parable is a wakeup call for all of us to make sure we wear the right garments of godly righteousness!