One student complains, “Our school’s dress code is so strict that the only time we can dress the way we like is on Halloween.”
Maybe we can see why there is a dress code when we consider how another student says, “One kid wears clothes with so many rips he can clip his toenails without taking off his shoes and socks.”
While dress codes are a fact of life in school and at work, their enforcement often results in controversy. There are frequent news stories and social media posts about people who are offended by being sent home for violations. Dress codes, it seems, are unpopular. Do you imagine there is a dress code in heaven? Do you imagine anyone being sent away from heaven for a dress code violation?
Well, a parable Jesus tells compares heaven to a wedding banquet thrown by a king, and one fellow is thrown out of the hall for a dress code violation. The story says that the king, in response to snubs by the guests he initially invites, sends out his servants with instructions to bring to his banquet any and all. It is difficult to imagine how this one fellow can be dressed properly for the party when he has been invited in spontaneously from off the street. The difficulty is resolved when we understand that the king, who generously invites his guests to his wedding banquet, also generously provides festive garments for his guests to wear. That is the practice of the ancient culture in which this parable is told.
Therefore, the man in the parable is not properly dressed in the attire provided by the king. He rejects the garment the king provides. He is as thankless as the original invitees who reject the invitation outright. He receives the consequence of his willful ingratitude. He is put out of the banquet hall. (Matthew 22:1-14.)
In the image of the wedding garment, we see a reflection of ancient baptismal practice. Converts from the pagan world, following a long period of faith formation, are brought in for baptism at the Easter Vigil. They cast off their old garments, go into the water, are baptized, and emerge to be clothed in a new white garment. This being unclothed and re-clothed is a symbol of the old way of life ending and the new life in Christ beginning. It is a powerful symbol of dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ in baptism. This new life in Christ, like the wedding garment in the parable, is a generous, undeserved gift. This is symbolized in the baptismal garment. The practice of the giving of a symbolic garment at baptism is carried forward to this day in many Christian traditions.
It becomes the daily task of the baptized to cooperate with God’s generous grace by putting off what is not of God and putting on what is. St. Augustine describes the proper clothing of a Christian as, “the love that springs from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.” To be thus clothed is to be observing heaven’s dress code. Anyone thus clothed will fit in at the heavenly banquet.
Deacon Scott Watford is pastoral associate at St. Nicholas of Myra Catholic Church.