The passage from Matthew read as the liturgical Gospel for this Sunday is really not one parable, but three parables run together. Anyone who has had lunch with Fr. Wells knows his habit of rambling from one story into another, possibly without finishing any of them. The Apostle Matthew on occasion telescoped several parables together, expecting his readers to remember them from the oral tradition which circulated in the Church.
The first parable involves a feast with ungrateful guests who refuse the invitation at the last moment. The second involves a king whose ambassadors are physically abused. Both of these parables are found in Luke 14 and Luke 20, respectively. But what about the third parable, the man who appeared, but not properly attired in the prescribed marriage garment? It has no parallel in the other Gospels. In a time like ours, when people are extremely casual about clothing, it seems odd for the king to resort of such an extreme measure (“cast him into outer darkness”) over a mere social faux pas.
The best explanation is a very ancient one. In those days for royal weddings, the host himself provided the garments for the guests to wear. So the man wearing improper clothing either was a party-crasher, who had entered without a proper invitation, or else he had treated the garments provided with disdain and contempt.
Garments happen to be a powerful symbol throughout the Scriptures. When God drove Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden out into “this tough world,” He kindly provided them with garments made from animal skins, as a token of His unmerited grace. The prodigal son was welcomed by his father with a sumptuous robe. The book of Revelation speaks of those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 7:14). St Paul speaks more than once of “putting on Christ,” as if Christ Himself were a garment. Paul's imagery has been preserved in the custom of special garments sometimes worn at Baptism and Confirmation.
By our nature, we are sinful through and through. When we “put on” Christ, our sinfulness is covered and our inward nature begins to change. Like the animal skins given to Adam and Eve or the marriage garments provided to the king's guests, or the robe given to the prodigal son, Christ miraculously becomes our marriage garment which entitles us to stand before the the Father. Left to our own devices, we are naked at God's judgment bar. But He makes us to be clothed and covered with the righteousness of Christ. “When He shall come with trumpet sound, oh, may I then in Him be found, clothed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.” LKW