On the Clothes We Wear
(Isa.25:6-10a; Phil.4:12-14; Mt.22:1-14)
Many years ago, I was invited to a big Christmas event in Chinatown. I arrived wearing T-shirt and shorts, while everyone else was dressed up. I was mortified. I foolishly didn’t think to change and spent all evening hiding my legs under a table.
Clearly, it’s not enough just to show up. We need to prepare ourselves.
At the end of WWII, the Russian leader Josef Stalin organised a big banquet for Winston Churchill. The Russians wore their best military dress uniforms, but Churchill arrived in the overalls he often wore during the German air raids on London. He thought the Russians would like it, but they felt insulted. [i]
Again, it’s not enough just to show up. We need to prepare ourselves.
The clothes we wear say a lot about who we are and how we think. In one episode of Seinfeld, George enters Jerry’s apartment wearing track pants. Seeing him, Jerry says, ‘You know the message you’re sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You’re telling the world, “I give up. I can’t compete in normal society. I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable”.’ [ii]
There’s a direct link between the clothes we wear and the way we think. In her book, Mind what you Wear: The Psychology of Fashion, Karen Pine says that when we put on a piece of clothing, we cannot help but adopt some of the characteristics associated with it, even if we’re unaware of it.
Research indicates that students wearing Superman T-shirts feel significantly stronger than those not wearing them. And when people put on white lab-coats they tend to become more mentally agile, regardless of their technical background.
As well, when we signal to others through our appearance that we care about ourselves, they’re more likely to see us as someone worth caring about. And when we dress like everyone else, we tend to feel less responsible for our actions.
So, what you wear not only reflects your inner state; it also has the power to change the way you think.
In Matthew’s Gospel today, Jesus gives us his Parable of the Wedding Banquet. The king’s son is getting married and he sends out special invitations.
This parable is similar to our Gospel readings over the last two Sundays. Today’s is about a wedding feast, while the last two were about vineyards.
But the message is the same: God is inviting us to join him in heaven.
In today’s parable, many people attend the King’s wedding banquet, but one person isn’t properly dressed. In those days, wedding guests were expected to wear a long white garment called a kittel. If a guest couldn’t afford it, a rich host would provide one.
The King asks this guest how he managed to get in without his kittel, but the guest doesn’t answer. So, the King expels him. Why does he do that?
Well, firstly it would have been an insult not to wear the garment the host gave him. But the main point is that what you wear reflects who you are; it reflects how you think. If this guest had truly valued the King’s invitation, he would have done more than show up. He’d have prepared himself by dressing properly.
Jesus often uses the image of the wedding feast to teach us about Heaven (e.g. Lk.14:7-11; Jn.2:1-11). And Scripture often uses clothing as a metaphor for spiritual change. In Colossians, Paul says, ‘…As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, goodness and patience’ (Col.3:12). And Peter says, ‘All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”’ (1Pet.5:5).
In other words, before we can enter the Kingdom of heaven, we need to change the way we live. As Paul says, we need to ‘Clothe (ourselves) with the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom.13:14). This process of ‘putting on Christ’ or ‘wearing the habit of love’ [iii] begins at our baptism, but it doesn’t stop there. We need to grow into Christ: living like him, becoming like him.
Jesus is the model to follow.
Many people today think that when their turn comes, all they have to do is show up and they’ll go straight into heaven. But today Jesus warns us that that’s simply not true. Not all who are called will be chosen for eternal life (Mt.22.14).
If we want to go to heaven, we must first demonstrate that we’re worthy of it. We need to be clothed in ‘the fine linen… of the saints’ (Rev.19:8).
It’s not enough just to show up.
we want to go to heaven, we must prepare ourselves, both inside and out.
[ii] Karen Pine, Mind what you Wear: The Psychology of Fashion. 2014 https://www.amazon.com.au/Mind-What-You-Wear-Psychology-ebook/dp/B00KBTB3NS
[iii] Pope Francis, Homily, 15/10/17 https://zenit.org/articles/pope-francis-declares-35-new-saints/