Today's Gospel, Matthew 22:1-14 is a bit irksome, is it not, for those among us who secretly or openly harbour hopes for salvation to be inclusively universal and universally inclusive?
The story as told by Jesus rides along straightforward inclusivist, universal tracks almost to the end. Those known to God reject God which only fires God to reach out wider into the world until the wedding feast is filled with people from the highways and the byways. Amazingly the story very specifically details that those gathered are 'the good and the bad.' That is everyone, isn't it?
But then the quirk in the tracks, the sting in the tail of the tale. God looks around the gathered throng and spies one guest unfit for the feast, devoid of his wedding robe. Out he goes, into the darkness, to wailing and teeth gnashing. No second change. No purgatory.
Wearing the robe matters. So the answer to the question, What is the robe, matters. Jesus, unnervingly, fails to give the answer. But the parable itself gives a clue: it is the robe which a wedding guest would have worn, a robe to cover or replace the dirty clothes of the journey to the wedding. In Matthew's gospel this means a robe of righteousness: only the righteous may enter the kingdom of heaven. The running argument through Matthew's Gospel concerns where righteousness comes from. Strict obedience to Mosaic Law, as interpreted by the rabbis? Or, through following Jesus and living under his rule?
But, in turn, this raises questions against the backdrop of the whole New Testament of the meaning of the gospel and what a saving response consists of: Matthew's understanding of righteousness versus Paul's understanding of righteousness? The answer to that question is Christian orthodoxy - an answer which may involve holding the two understandings together, not promoting one over the other.
The robe we need to wear to remain at God's wedding feast has, then, an interesting texture, and made from a very fine thread.