Of all the things that I have had to do so far in Itchen Valley as curate, the thing I have been most nervous about has been weddings. I am not good on spatial awareness and so getting everyone in the right place at the right time has been challenging for me. At the first wedding at which I officiated, I had to spend some time searching for the ring which I had dropped in the folds of the bride’s dress!
But it has been such a privilege to see how different families organise weddings and to be with the couple at this important time. Fashions change and the sensitive mechanism of the English society responds to the challenges of each new generation in a different way to the generation before.
This is most obvious in the area of wedding clothes. When I got married it was absolutely customary for our male friends to wear morning suits and for the ladies to wear hats and dresses. And we all did at our wedding, except for one chap who turned up in a camel coloured suit. What was he thinking when he got dressed that morning?
But just before we also went to a wedding in Zimbabwe between an Englishman and a Rhodesian girl. All the male English guests wore morning suits and all the Rhodesian men wore suits. It was obvious whether you were the guest of the bride or the groom.
Such distinctions did not matter in Zimbabwe – both sides felt supremely confident in their own identity. However in England, if the dress of those invited by each family differs according to family culture, this could be a cause of embarrassment and division on what should be a day of celebration for all. So these days it is really up to the hosts to make sure that what they expect their guests to wear is clear from the invitation and not to put some guests who can least afford it to embarrassing extra expense.
This is why I was so interested that at one of the weddings I presided over in the summer the hosts had decided on a theme for the wedding (and what to wear in the context of that theme) which all could embrace regardless of family culture and means. I am sure it made for a great party. I am sure that the hosts were delighted that everyone wore what they suggested and that the guests all felt comfortable and welcome.
And perhaps this is what is going on in the parable that Jesus is telling and which we have just read. Of course, the main part of the parable is about those who have accepted the invitation, but do not turn up to the party and how angry this makes the host. This was all part of Jesus’ continuing dialogue with the Jews and their leaders.
But today I am most intrigued by the little story in verses 11-13, the man who is ejected for not wearing the right clothes.
Some theologians (St Augustine amongst them) say that a host would have provided the clothes for the wedding feast and it would be very insulting to him not to wear them; hence the intemperate response to the man not wearing the right clothes. Theologically speaking, the clothes that God provides us with to enter the Kingdom are his forgiveness and grace through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross – no good works that we do ourselves (i.e. our own wedding clothes) can justify our salvation (our entrance to the party) – what we have to do is repent and accept his forgiveness and God clothes us in Jesus’ righteousness and by this affords us access to his Kingdom. The interloper is trying to get into the Kingdom clothed in the merits of his own actions.
But another view is that the usual practice in the first century would have been, as it is for us, for guests to wear their own clothes, thus, potentially, in first century society, exposing the same sort of divisions between some and others that wedding clothes can today. Some are rich and some are poor, some come from a family with one cultural practice and some from another.
So the fact in Jesus’ parable that the guests all have uniform clothes, except this one interloper, suggests that most of the wedding guests have paid attention to the dress code that the host has stipulated and out of respect to the host have worn them. Theologically speaking, they have worn the clothes of their own repentance which the host does require and have been permitted entry to the wedding feast through the host’s forgiveness obtained by Jesus’ death on the cross.
But there is something counterfeit about the interloper’s repentance because it has not resulted in a changed life. Perhaps the interloper has only repented nominally. Perhaps there is no true repentance of the heart.
And so far as Jesus is concerned, it is always the state of the heart which matters. It is what clothes the heart, rather than what clothes the body, with which Jesus is concerned.
On this view, ‘though entry to God’s salvation is free for all, it is not without standards, nor to be taken lightly. The claim to belong to the wedding feast, without an appropriate change of life characterized Israel and brought about its rejection by God; the new people of God, the Christian church, must not fall into the same error’.
Thus the right dress code is true repentance of heart which manifests itself in a life appropriate to God’s new people.
So good works do not get us into the Kingdom of Heaven, but a changed life is a sign that we have allowed God to do the heart surgery necessary – true repentance – to be accepted into that wonderful celebration which will be at the end of all things and the beginning of eternity.
How are our hearts looking?
Are we the theological equivalents of the man in the camel coloured suit: invited but subject to ejection?
If so, let’s use Cranmer’s wonderful words of confession to clothe our hearts in true repentance.
 Michael Green The Message of Matthew