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Many are Called...Few are Chosen: Garment of Righteousness

by Brant Pitre January 22, 2021 0 Comments

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That's the basic imagery here of the first part of parable, but there is like an appendix to the parable where the king comes in to inspect the guests, and you have this bizarre image of one of the guests not having a “wedding garment.”  What is that about?  Well maybe you have had the experience of showing up at a wedding underdressed.  Where everyone else was wearing tuxedos and you were just wearing some jeans and a t-shirt.  If you have had the kind of experience of going to an occasion where you don't dress as well as everyone else, you know that you immediately feel singled out.  You feel like you don't fit, like you don't belong, and apparently — we don't know a lot about this — but apparently in ancient Judaism, there was some kind of garment that could be worn at a wedding that would be an appropriate garment for a wedding feast.  We don't know a lot about exactly what it looked like or how it was distinctive, but in this case this man has shown up to the wedding but he is not dressed appropriately, he is not wearing a wedding garment.

Obviously, since everything else in the parable has been symbolic, in other words it represents something else, what does the wedding garment represent in this case?  What is the man lacking in the wedding feast?  Well, the best clue that I can find for this is to go back to the Old Testament once again.  It is not the reading this time, but in the book of Isaiah 61, Isaiah gives a prophecy.  And he says in that prophecy, “the Lord has anointed me because he has commissioned me to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captive…” so on and so forth.  It's a description of the Messiah, the anointed one, mashiach is the Hebrew.  If you read through all of Isaiah 61, all the way through, you will see that this figure of the anointed Messiah, the anointed prophet, that later on in the chapter, in chapter 61 verse 10 and following, it says that God had clothed him with the “garments of salvation.”  He had covered him with “the robe of righteousness” and dressed him “like a bridegroom.”  So the only imagery we have from the Old Testament of a wedding garment that's explicit, is tied to the Messiah dressed in the wedding garment of righteousness, being clothed with salvation.  So if we take that image from Isaiah and we kind of move it forward into the New Testament, what is being described here?  Well the man without a wedding garment, in this sense, seems to be lacking righteousness.  He's missing the righteousness that is fitting to the kingdom of God.  Once again, it is almost like a parallel with the previous parable of the wicked tenants.  They were lacking the fruit, which represented righteousness.  Same thing here with the wedding feast, the man is lacking the wedding garment, which is the garment of righteousness.

So although he has been invited to the wedding feast, he is not living in accordance with the law of the king.  So what happens to this man who's missing the wedding garment, who is not clothed in righteousness?  He is cast out of the wedding feast, which represents the kingdom of heaven, and into the outer darkness, which represents Gehenna, it represents the realm of the damned.  It represents hell, eternal separation from God.  And you can see this elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew, like in Matthew 8:11-12.  One of Jesus’ favorite images for being separated from God in Hell, in Gehenna, is to talk about, “there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”  It's an expression of the distress and the anguish and the frustration of being separated from God, and being unable to enter into his presence.  So then what does this mean?  What's the impact of this?  What is the righteousness that Christ is describing to us as needing to be clothed in?

Well it is real simple.  If you look elsewhere in Matthew's Gospel, like in Matthew 7 or in the parable of the sheep and the goats, it's the righteousness of works of charity.  Think about it.  In Matthew 7, Jesus says “not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  The same thing in Matthew 25, the parable of the sheep and goats.  Why are the goats lead off into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, why are they brought off to hell?  Because they didn't engage in works of charity.  They didn't clothe the naked.  They didn't feed the hungry.  They didn’t care for the poor.  They didn’t visit the sick and imprisoned.  So those works of charity are like the fruits of the vineyard from the other parable.  They are like the garment of the wedding feast.  And if you're not living a life of righteousness, you are basically trying to attend the wedding banquet without being properly clothed, and the result will be — I was going to say you would be eternally bounced from the wedding, but that is probably not the best image.  Well, I try.  Anyway, you can see that this is Jesus’ main image there, or should I say it is the main point of the parable.  He sums it all up when he says “many are called, but few are chosen.”  What does that mean, “many are called, but few are chosen”?  What he means is everybody's invited, but that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone is going to be chosen for the eternal kingdom.  We have to be clothed with the garments of the Messiah.  We have to be clothed with the garments of righteousness.

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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