“Many are called but few are chosen.” [Matthew 22:14 ESV]
If you ask the normal Christian who has grown up with flannel graph Bible stories in Sunday School and listening to Sunday sermons Jesus frequently uses this phrase. He does make similar statement but this is the only time Jesus actually says “many are called but few are chosen.” This startling statement comes on the heels of a number of parables directed against false teaching about who God is and what He wants in a relationship with those He loves. Jesus ends the last parable in this string of stories with the above declaration.
This parable is about a wedding banquet and the lack of desire to attend by the invited guests of the father of the groom. It was the King of the land who invited them and they had so little regard for him they found excuses to not attend. So, instead of forcing them or compelling them, the king disowned them and invited the poor and needy and anyone his servants could find on the road. It did not matter if they were citizens of his kingdom or just traveling through they were invited in and came. Knowing those invited from the streets would not have proper attire the king clothed them so they would reflect the dignity of the occasion of the wedding of his son. But, he found one man who refused the clothing choosing to wear his own cloths and not those provided. When the king saw this man dressed in his clothes, an anomaly amidst the wedding guests, he spoke to him and received no answer from the man who was not wearing proper attire. He was speechless so the king had him bound hand and foot and thrown out. Does this sound violent and abusive? Is it not the prerogative of a king to demand compliance with his wishes?
Though Jesus does not interpret the parable it is not difficult to understand. In the story the king is God and the son is Jesus, the Son of God. God’s servants are the prophets including John the Baptizer. Those who are invited but refused to come are the religious leaders and the chosen people of God. Those who are invited and attend are those, including the Gentiles, who obey God’s command to come into His presence. Please note, the word “invited” is the word “called” and is not a request as an invitation is considered in our culture. It was not the king’s intent to request people come but a command they should come. For any to disobey this command is out and out rebellion. Jesus’ righteous is the wedding garment and all who attend the wedding must be clothed with His righteousness and not their own. So, the one who is found who is not dressed properly and is cast out represents those who claim to know God but refuse to be clothed in Christ’s righteousness preferring their own.
Jesus spoke this parable against the religious leaders who hated him and wanted him dead. They were the leaders responsible for teaching the people about God, His law and history. Yet, they had become so self-centered and focused on controlling the people they lost sight of God’s work and intent for them. They were self-righteous, as far away from “poor in spirit” as they could be. Though they espoused the thoughts and will of God they did not follow Him or have a relationship with Him. They were His servants yet refused to serve Him as He commanded. They were sinful yet refused to acknowledge their sin believing following the law to the letter would make them right before God. Using their works as an excuse they refused to respond to the One who had chosen them and taught them and was leading them toward Himself. They are “called” yet refuse His “chosen” status.
God’s call is not a request to come but a command. There is not option for refusal. When God calls a person He draws them out of one thing and into another. He calls them out of one place and sends them to another. Abraham was called out of Ur of Chaldea, away from his land and his people and his gods and sent to an unknown place. At no time during the journey did God ever say “I am sending you to Canaan, over next to the Mediterranean. You know the place in between the desert and the sea, with Egypt on the South and every other world power on the North.” God called Abraham and promised to bless him in the new place even though he was walking into the complete unknown.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” [Genesis 12:1-3 ESV]
There are two major points in Abraham’s story. First, God chose a man who was not a godly man, who had nothing in his being or bearing which would show himself as one worthy of God’s attention. Looking back at Jesus’ parable Abraham would be one walking the street, not even a citizen of the kingdom, invited into the wedding banquet. Abraham was thoroughly pagan. He was not dressed appropriately for a wedding feast for the son of a king. Secondly, God called him out of the world of paganism and idolatry into a place He had already chosen and would direct into making His kingdom (albeit, on earth). God dressed him over the years, clothing him appropriately for attendance at the wedding feast and as a new citizen of His kingdom. God called him and chose him and he responded to the call and accepted being chosen even though he did not know what would happen.
Jesus says “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” He is calling those chosen out of one world into another. He is saying “look honestly at yourself, at those around you, at the world in which you live and recognize its total depravity, turn away from it and enter the exact opposite, the kingdom of heaven.”
When you leave the world you cannot bring anything with you. This world is condemned. In God’s timing he will destroy everything corrupted by sin. Why then would anyone try to bring something, anything, which has no eternal value out of this world into His kingdom?
God does not rip us away from the physical world. When Israel entered the Promised Land God said He would drive out the inhabitants “little by little” “lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you.” In the same way the Israelites were to drive out the people of the land of Canaan the Christian is to expel the sin from their lives. As sin is confronted it must be killed. Since the Israelites did not do what God commanded, leaving some of the ungodly people in the land they were to drive out, God allowed them to stay.
Now these are the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before. These are the nations: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. [Judges 3:1-4 ESV]
As you read the history of Israel you will see the Philistines were a continual source of war and temptation. Israel has been suffering because of the sin of disobedience for thousands of years. So, we must have no mercy upon the sin we discover and face. It must be driven out and destroyed. That which is of the world cannot enter the Kingdom of God. However, like Israel, should we not drive out the sin God will allow it to stay to teach us to war against sin.
Though God does not rip any who are His away from this world He does tell us to break any connection we might have with the world so we not cling to that which is worthless. There was nothing in corrupted people to suggest we are worth God’s effort and attention. What we are not the issue. Who God is and that He works in those who are His is the issue. He is working to prepare the Christian for eternity though we deserve the exact opposite. His call is for the Christian to recognize sin and His grace and obey Him no matter the circumstance.