My Dear friends in Christ
May grace and peace be yours in abundance through knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. Every year, around late July or early August, I get an email or note from a parishioner that goes something like this…
Dear Fr. Miller
In general, I think you are doing a good job as our pastor. You have a very beautiful voice and sometimes you even have a good homily. But, you need to do something about all these women that don’t wear the right clothes to church. And I’m not just talking about young girls. I’m talking about women who should know better wearing spaghetti straps and shorts. Don’t they know they are coming to church? I find this very offensive. I don’t come to church to look at bare shoulders and back acne. (I’m not kidding about the back acne comment!) Church is supposed to be a formal place where you wear your finest clothes, not the swimming hole with Opey and Andy.
Yours in Christ
Older, respected woman in the community
I couldn’t help but think of these communications when I was reading this passage. If I were to apply this scripture passage literally, the message is clear: those older, respected women in the community are exactly right and I should have the ushers throw out anyone who comes to church without the right clothes on. I should set up a dress code that everyone has to meet, especially the women. I’m thinking full length ball gown with a mantilla covering the women’s head is going to be part. Guys will have to wear a suit with a bow tie, preferably a tuxedo but I understand that not every man can afford a tux so any suit would suffice except for a leisure suit. What do you think this is, a disco mass?
I am, of course, being facetious. I have no intention of implementing a dress code. Having worked on a college campus, I’ll admit that I have seen it all. I’ve seen girls with tight fitting shirts, short shorts, and thigh high boots come and kneel down in the front row of church. I’ve seen guys with baggy pants, baggy shorts, body-piercings and tattoos visible everywhere spending time in front of the tabernacle. And I've seen guys in khaki pants, a shirt, and tie come in and act like total idiots in church. I don’t think Jesus was advocating setting a dress code for mass in this parable. He’s using a common convention as an analogy to a deeper, issue.
The King in this analogy is God and, as we know, God first made a relationship to the Jewish people. In the first reading, we heard that the end-time was supposed to be like a great banquet that the Lord of hosts would provide on his mountain. But, when God invites his chosen people to attend, at first they refuse to come and then they beat and kill the servants inviting them. The servants that invite them are, of course, the prophets, John the Baptist, and Jesus himself. So, the King has to give up on the guests he first invited and sends the remaining servants out to invite anyone and everyone. Yet, when he does this, someone shows up not wearing clothes fit for a wedding. But what tells me that there’s a deeper meaning than simple church regulation is that the result of being thrown out of the banquet is wailing and gnashing of teeth. It seems clear that Jesus is using people’s outward appearance to talk about what’s happening in their heart.
I think of the politicians that come to mass dressed in the same suit that they wore after voting to ease restrictions on abortion. Or the man who comes to mass with his beautiful family after cheating on his wife the night before. What about the nicely dressed woman who stole money from work the on Friday and then comes before the Lord in the Holy Eucharist on Sunday. Those are the garments that matter to the Lord.
Don’t get me wrong. I do think there are times that women could dress more modestly because their dress could facilitate a guy’s imagination and cause him to sin. Guys tend to be more visual than woman and don’t need a woman’s help to objectify them. But, guys, we can't let that be an excuse! Have custody of your own eyes. We're the only ones that can decide if we treat women with dignity or not.
On this mountain the Lord of hosts has provided a feast of rich food and choice wine, on this mountain the Lord has provided the body and blood of his only Son. We put on the wedding garments of good works to come to this mountain, even if our outward clothing isn’t always perfect.