The Cloak of Character

Unknown-2This week, a King of sorts fell. Unlike the king in our gospel, if Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein hosted a party, all the A-listers came. He was thanked in Oscar speeches, as one writer put it, even more often than God. Famous actresses called him “Uncle Harvey,” until, that is, he put the moves on them. His entourage arranged things so he could victimize, assault and harass young women, who knew he could instantly crush their careers and dreams. A lot of people suspected the kind of man this King was and did nothing. Many of his subjects were complicit, and said nothing. He was the King, after all.

In our gospel, this morning, in a parable told by Jesus, we are offered the story of another King. This King sends out invitations to a wedding party for his son. He invites some big wigs, some landowners, those with power, but they are too busy, or can’t be bothered. Some of them even attack or kill those delivering the invitation. The king, in anger, responds by taking revenge. He then decided to open the wedding up to everyone. One man is found not wearing the proper garb. When he can’t explain himself, the king orders the man tossed out of the party. We are to understand that his orders were followed. He was the king after all. “Many are called,” Jesus says in warning. “Few are chosen.”

First of all, I wouldn’t consider this one of Jesus’ most successful parables. It doesn’t easily translate into our day today. Kings and exclusive parties put us off. We have seen quite clearly what happens to people who have the power to be “exclusive,” to make dictates, to decide who gets tossed and who measures up. Harvey Weinstein was just one of those fancy men, and he used his power to prey on those beneath him. The man in the Oval office said himself that “when you are a star” people let you do things – egregrious things – that other people couldn’t get away with. So, I don’t know about you, but upon first modern-day reading, my sympathy goes to the man who didn’t follow the dress code and got tossed out the door.

This parable is challenging, but let’s break it down. In some ways, it’s a bit on the nose. The King is God, the son is Jesus. God calls the leaders to follow the gospel, and they reject the offer or ignore it. Worse, they kill the messenger – that is the prophet, such as John the Baptist, who were sent out to “invite” us to hear Jesus. So, God opens up the Kingdom of Heaven to everyone, no matter who they are, and waits to see who shows up.

Now the parables of Jesus always have to be broken down to the message that resonates with us today, and the historical context we need to truly understand what is happening. In Jesus time, a wedding thrown by a King or very wealthy person, would have included the host providing wedding robes to the guests. To not wear one, would have been an insult and affront. So, the man is not bounced from the party for his ratty clothes. He is kicked out for not accepting a gift. The wedding robes in this sense are meant to represent grace. The man is not wearing a robe of character, and it costs him his invitation.

But is that fair? Is that even our understanding of the gospel? If many are called, but few are chosen, doesn’t that lead us to a community of faith where some pass, and some fail? This, for me, is a troublesome part of this analogy. But just as I would question anyone who uses one line from the Old Testament to decide their views on a matter, we have to remember to take the gospel in its entirety. Each parable should be seen as a kernel of wisdom. It makes no sense that Jesus would be saying, if you mess up and forget to put the robe on this one day, you are out. Or, if you realize your error, and put on the wedding robe, you won’t get back into the party. This contradicts so many of the other lessons he teachers. What is important here, I think, is the commitment to the cause. Jesus is reminding us that getting invited to God’s table isn’t something to take lightly. It’s not a given. It comes with a calling to live with character.

In other words, we can’t look away when we see wrongs happening. We have to speak up when powerful people commit crimes, even at a cost to ourselves. We stand with people who are forgotten, who are weak, who are silenced. When we are complicit, or compliant, in the face of those wrongs, we are not wearing the character of the gospel. And lest we want to make the case of Harvey Weinstein a unique one, let us remember that it has happened in the RCMP, in the Military, in the CBC, in tech start-ups, and keeps happening still. In this one area, there are many people staying silent or looking the other way when workplaces become unsafe for half the population of this country. The cloak of character comes with sacrifice. At times, it is a heavy cloak to wear.

But let’s not forget that other story told today. The exchange between Moses and God is a particular one worth noting. God is angry about the golden calf, ready to call it quits on the Israelites. But Moses, in essence, talks God down. And eventually, we are told God changes God’s mind. Think about that: in a moment, a calm human voice asking for mercy, was heard by God, and brought change, another chance to wear the cloak of character.

Are we the many who are called, or the few chosen? Faith is, by its nature, aspirational: a goal to which we strive, a cloak of character we try to wear as much as can. Jesus is impressing upon us the cost of the cloak of discipleship, even as he reminds us that price of the invitation to the party is not perfection. Let us hear the call.  Let us be mindful of false idols and Kings.  And let us leave the choosing to God.

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