In the presence of many people, Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogue and the places of honour at feasts” (Luke 20:46). The scribes liked to strut around in their expensive robes, seeking honourable greetings from common people and taking the best seats in the synagogue. Perhaps we Lutherans are most unlike the scribes here because we love to sit all the way in the back! Or maybe those are the best seats? Makes you wonder…
There’s a lot of unnecessary debate about how one should dress when they attend the Divine Service. Some say you must put on your “Sunday best” since, after all, you’re approaching the Lord of all creation. While I understand the reasoning, I don’t support this argument because Jesus Himself approached ragamuffins—people like prostitutes, lepers, and the poor who certainly did not look their best. Not to mention His words above where He criticises the scribes for always looking their best because they were seeking self-glory. I suspect that’s what’s going on here when people say you must wear your Sunday best “for Jesus.” Jesus doesn’t need you to look your best; He comes to you at your worst. Now, this doesn’t mean we should come to church in our pyjamas looking like we don’t take care of ourselves, but we become like these scribes when we make it into a law that we must always look our best “for Jesus” on Sunday. At that point, you’re not doing it for Jesus; you’re doing it for yourself. (This manmade law is also a good way to get people not to come to church.)
We mustn’t concern ourselves with how good we look before the Lord or getting compliments from others of how good our hair looks and the new outfit we just bought, or the best seats in the back of the sanctuary. Rather, what should always preoccupy our minds on the Sabbath is the light of God’s truth in the Gospel that removes our sin. Whether you’re wearing a summer suit or shorts, Jesus accepts you just the same. I admire the words from Catherine of Siena (1347-1380):
You consume whatever sin and selfishness you find in the soul. Yet your consuming does not distress the soul but fattens her with insatiable love… The more she possesses you the more she seeks you, and the more she seeks and desires you the more she finds and enjoys you, high eternal fire, abyss of charity! O supreme eternal Good! What moved you, infinite God, to enlighten me, your finite creature, with the light of your truth? …For it always has been and always is love that constrains you to create us in your own image and likeness, and to show us mercy by giving your creatures infinite and immeasurable grace.quoted in Schumacher, 28
Rather than seeking self-glory on Sunday on being the best dressed, we should seek only the glory of God—to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness [not ours], and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Rather than being so self-centred on our beauty (whether real or imagined), we should centre instead on the beauty of God—the works of His hands (Psalm 8:3-9) and the incarnation of His only-begotten Son who came to give us eternal life (John 3:16). For the Sabbath is not about the false trinity of me, myself, and I but the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Schumacher, Frederick J., and Dorothy A. Zelenko. For All the Saints: A Prayer Book For and By the Church. Volume I, Year 1: Advent to the Day of Pentecost. Delhi, NY: The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 2003.