Today is the feast of St. Nicholas. He was an early church bishop, never road a sleigh, and was probably not terribly jolly nor an elf. He was remarkably generous to the poor and was a faithful bishop. Rumor has it he slapped a heretic across the face for uttering his blasphemies at a church meeting. I respect his gusto even if I recognize that physical assault is probably not what Jesus had in mind (you know, turn the other cheek...).
Today, despite the rain and cold (with threats of ice death 2013 all around us!) four of us gathered for prayer at our 9am time. We used the readings of the day, a particularly hard selection from Amos 5:1-17, the most justice focused of prophets and a parable of Jesus from Matthew 22:1-14. The parable sort of has two (wedding feast and conquering king) streams in it and appears to have been cobbled together from a couple of Jesus' stories. In its present form it is also challenging. Those who reject the wedding invitation end up massacred for the slight. Now remember to think in terms of that culture. Power, respect, shame are of a different stripe then her in the USA (where we do not typically burn down the homes of those who fail to show up for a wedding). The language of the parable seems very much to reflect the actual historical demise of Jerusalem, so in a sense, it might be a case of history reshaping an original prophetic/parabolic warning.
Another element is the man with no wedding garment.We learn in other places (Revelation) that the garment is an outward sign of a person. To not have a wedding garment, symbolically, means not to have the good works assigned to the faithful Christian. In the end, the wedding guest is invited without cost and without earning the privilege. However, once you get there, it is a very bad idea to come unprepared for the event. In fact, to "not have a wedding garment" is akin to rejecting the invitation.
There is little doubt in my mind that this is Matthew's message to his original readers. The Jews who rejected Jesus were under judgement (and the destruction of Jerusalem literally happened) but the Christians in Matthew's church were reminded to bring the life style of a disciple. Having receive the grace of salvation (and Matthew emphasizes the works very much) the Christian now lived a new life in a profoundly new way. Matthew is clear about what he thinks being a Jesus-follower/believer means. And that wedding garment is the image he used to convey it to us today; on December 6, the feast of St. Nicholas, a man who was very aware of the call to bear fruit and a man who wore his wedding garment to the marriage feast of Jesus! May we all seek to live lives of extraordinary faithfulness as good St. Nick.