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The Wedding Garment of Matthew 22

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As Secular Franciscans we pray the Liturgy of the Hours. In our Franciscan Liturgy, on Sunday morning, we read the strange passage from Matthew 22:1-14 which is the story of the wedding feast. At first it is directed at the conservative leadership of Jesus day. The king sends out his servants to the proper establishment people, the middle-class and the wealthy, inviting them to the wedding feast of his daughter. Being more concerned with their own lives, they decline the invite. After several attempts to get them to come, and wanting a full house for his daughter’s wedding, the king invites just anybody who wants to come to his wedding to come.
Then we are told of the strange story of the man who does come to the wedding reception, as asked, but who does not take the time to put on a wedding costume. He was not told to put on such a suit, just to come. That is what he did, so where is the crime?

Scholars believe Matthew has a Hebrew original source. Is so, we can look the Hebrew words to find the answer. The key Hebrew word is, “בִּגְדֵי חֲתֻנָּה” and means “what makes you family,” or, “That which marks you a member of the community. Matthew would have had the Zizith, or the tassels of the Jewish male. He may also have had circumcision in mind.

We have in mind, as Catholics, the signs of our baptism, the outward signs of our transformation, which come from dying and rising with Christ. This is the outward signs of Penance, or turning of the mind to God, and the joy coming with it. This is remembering what it was like to be in Egypt/the sweatshops of Europe and America, and then making sure others do not suffer, as individuals and as a nation.
When speaking of baptism, St. Bonaventure speaks, not of a onetime conversion, but of a continual conversion and growth. We apply this, both to Mother Church, and to the individuals within it.

St. Augustine also relates how baptism is far more than just the sprinkling of water and a few words from a priest. We call the ritual, “Sacrament only.” More important is putting on the new person. We call this “Sacrament and the thing. There is also “thing only.” “The spiritual benefit of receiving the Sacrament, God’s freely bestowed grace is the sacred reality.”

St. Paul speaks of putting on Christ. “Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29

Put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires; be renewed in the spirit of your minds; put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness/Tzaddic/ charity/ justice and holiness/dedication of truth. Ephesians 4:22-24
This putting on Christ, this joining with the Judeo-Christian community, putting on the signs of this community, the sacramental seals, and the signs of these seals, these transformations, is what Jesus means in Matthew when he talks of the wedding garment.

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