Many are Invited, but Few Are Chosen

“Put first things first and second things are thrown in. Put second things first and you lose both first and second things.”  C. S. Lewis

This week’s article is by Ben Gladd. Ben earned his M.A. and Ph.D. at Wheaton College. He is Associate Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary. He frequently teaches in The Refuge and Covenant classes at Highlands. His most recent book is The Story Retold: A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament. See here

The pandemic that has handcuffed the world has also given believers the opportunity reflect and ponder their faith. Is our faith fleeting, only based upon church attendance and community involvement? Or, has this pandemic deepened our faith in Christ? The parable of the wedding banquet (Matt 22:1-14) terrifically instructs us to persevere in the faith, commune with God, and remain loyal to our neighbors.

The parable teases out the themes already set forth in the two previous parables (21:28-44). The basic flow of the parable is straightforward: a king throws a banquet for his son’s wedding and invites a host of guests to attend. The initial guests, though, refuse the offer as they are more concerned about their own agendas than the king’s. Some of the guests even murder the king’s messengers. Angered, the king arms his troops and wages war against them. Not to be deterred, the king then sends out his servants to the “streets” where they “gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good” (22:10). The table is set, the royal family is present, and the “wedding hall” is finally “filled with guests” (22:10).  But, there is more to the story. As the king moves throughout the crowd, he is taken back by a man not wearing the proper attire. So, the king commands his servants that he be bound and tossed outside, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (22:13). The final verse of the section divulges the overall point: “for many are invited, but few are chosen” (22:14).

Probably in line with the two previous parables, the “king” is God, and his “son” is Jesus (22:2). The parable of the banquet may recall Isa 25:6-12 where God holds a meal with “all peoples” in the new creation. According to Isa 25, the source of provision is not primarily physical sustenance but God’s glorious presence. His all-encompassing glory nourishes Israel and the nations. The first set of guests appear to be the Jewish people, who, on account of their devotion to their own livelihood and their opposition to King Jesus, are either passed over or destroyed (22:4-7).

The second set of guests are likely Gentiles who embrace Jesus (22:8-10). They constitute “all peoples” of Isa 25:6. The final movement of this parable, the description of the man not wearing wedding attire, though odd at first, fits quite well with Matthew’s narrative. Allegiance to Jesus of Nazareth is not simply a one-time decision but a life-long commitment. Like the seed falling upon rocky soil and eventually withering (13:20-21), this individual responded initially to the invitation of the banquet but failed to come prepared. Jesus offers the message to the kingdom to all, but only a few will enter it and fewer still will persevere.

As we press on in our devotion to Christ in the coming days, weeks, and years, we don’t know what will transpire. When will this end? While we have no clue, we serve God who does, knowing that he purposed it for our good. Our responsibility is to trust him, enjoy his glorious presence, and live in light of that trust every waking moment of our day.