As a child, my clothes closet contained three types of attire: play clothes, school clothes and Sunday clothes. I preferred play clothes and would have worn them every day had I been allowed. I was not. My least favorite was Sunday clothes. I liked Sunday School and Church. I just didn’t like the clothes. When I got older, I discovered wedding wear. Sunday clothes on steroids: expensive, uncomfortable and too unique to be worn for any other occasion.
I can’t imagine getting dressed – every day – as if I were going to a wedding. It seems unreasonable for the king in Jesus’ parable to punish the passerby invited to the wedding, without advance notice, simply because he was not dressed for it.
It’s easy to hear this parable as a frightening, end-of-the-world tale cautioning that we can never be ready. But the message may not be that bad. It may have more to do with our willingness to try to be on our best behavior at all times, and not just when we think someone important might be involved or watching.
I was teaching an older kids’ Sunday School class one year when I explained I would use the term “C.E.” (Common Era) in place of “A.D.” (Anno Domini or “year of our Lord.”) Someone asked why it was necessary to be politically correct even in church. Couldn’t we let our hair down in church and use language that might be insensitive to Jews, since there probably weren’t any Jews attending our church? My answer was “no,” we could not “let our hair down” like that.
Deciding how we behave – how we speak and how we act – is not only about how we think others might be affected. It is also about who we are and who we aspire to be. Remember “dress for the job you want?” We need to be working at who we aspire to be every single day. Everything we do and say forms our character. We don’t know when we will be called upon to demonstrate real moral insight or courage. If we haven’t practiced it every day, we have little hope of meeting the unexpected challenge on the unexpected day.
In the first reading, the Israelites in the wilderness didn’t do too well with their challenge: neither God nor Moses approved of the golden calves they built, although commentators disagree as to whether the people were choosing other gods or whether they just wanted a more tangible sense of God’s presence.
Paul reminds us that “the Lord is near” and that between now and the end of days – which is to say, every day – our work is to focus on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable . . . ” That is the work which will make us ready for the day when the big unexpected challenge or invitation comes our way.