“Many are called but few are chosen.” (Matt. 22:14)
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 statements, but this is the only time Jesus actually said, “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. 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. Disobedience to this command is out and out rebellion. Jesus’ righteousness 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 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 and the opposite of poor in spirit. 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 no 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.
Jesus said, “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 we need to look honestly at ourselves, at those around us, at the world in which we live and recognize its impurity and depravity, turn away from it and enter the exact opposite, the kingdom of heaven.