Many are called but few are chosen
…So the handsome prince married his beautiful bride and they all lived happily ever after. Do you believe in fairytales? I say “fairytales” – it’s a bit deeper than that. It runs in our cultural bloodstream. It courses through our literature, our music, our films, our deepest values in life. We have this belief that when the guy and the girl get together – that is it. That is the ultimate. The happiest of happy endings.
Jesus tells us why we have that sense. He says:
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son…” (Matthew 22:2)
In this parable, God is the King, Jesus is His Son. And the kingdom of heaven is a wedding feast. It is a joyful celebration thrown by the Father for His Son. Here is the meaning of life according to the Bible: The Father loves His Son Jesus and invites the world to enjoy Jesus Christ with Him.
Last year we saw another royal wedding. William and Kate invited 40 kings and queens, 50 members of the royal family, 60 governors general and Commonwealth prime-ministers, 200 members of the government, Parliament and diplomatic corps. But also they invited Kate Middleton’s grocer, butcher and postman, her pub landlord and 300 other friends of the couple.
Gentlemen were required to wear uniform, morning coat or lounge suit. Ladies were required to wear a hat for the wedding service. Some of them perhaps went overboard.
In Biblical times, life was even simpler for the recipients of invitations. Servants would come and take your RSVP personally. And if you wanted to go, the right clothes were provided on the day by the host. Therefore there really was no excuse for not showing up and not being dressed for the occasion.
But the shock of Christ’s parable is how people respond to the King’s invitation.
“And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.” (Matthew 22:3-6)
First the servants are met by indifference, then mockery, then violence. Earlier this year, republican sentiment was stirred up by the royal wedding. Many took it as an opportunity to voice their anti-royalist grievances. But you have to hate the King and His Son very much to kill the inviters, don’t you? This is high treason.
And yet Jesus is simply retelling the Old Testament story here. Prophet after prophet invite the people, and prophet after prophet are met with hatred and violence. Eventually the King responds:
“But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.” (Matthew 22:7)
Here is a prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred in AD70. Those who refused the invitation of the King would be those who themselves kill the Son. Jesus says judgement will fall. And we look back to see that judgement did fall, just as He predicted. But this is not the end of the story.
“Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.” (Matthew 22:8-10)
The kingdom of heaven is for everyone. Bad and good. Diplomats and butchers, princes and prostitutes, celebrities and criminals. The Father will celebrate His Son and will celebrate with everyone who wants to join in. It will be an eternity of feasting and joy. It will be the happily ever after we all long for.
But this parable doesn’t end with that “happily ever after.” Jesus brings everything back to earth with a bump to discuss the case of a single invitee who misses out.
“And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:11-14)
One man was not wearing the appropriate clothes. He has refused to put on what’s been provided. He’s refused to acknowledge the occasion. It is a snub to the Father and the Son and he is cast out of the feast.
Heaven is a party. But it’s not any old party. It’s God the Father’s celebration of His Son. The many who are called are not called to a place of abstract blessings and general pleasures. The chosen are those who don’t merely celebrate the supper – they celebrate the Son. The very essence of the kingdom is a love and honour for Jesus. If we don’t want to acknowledge Jesus, then we may be called, but we are not chosen.
But then why would we not acknowledge Jesus? Especially when we understand the lengths He has gone to, to invite us. In the story he sends servants. But in the Gospels He came in Person. He is God’s personal invitation to the feast. And everything He does beckons us in. On the cross He voluntarily took our judgement for heavenly high treason. The Great Bridegroom got bound hand and foot and dragged outside the city. The Royal Son of the Father was cast into outer darkness with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Jesus suffered hell to bring us heaven. He was cast out so that we could be brought in.
Being “chosen” is not about looking within to find qualifications for the feast. We find ourselves chosen when we look away to Christ and our hearts are won by the Heavenly Bridegroom.
All things are ready: come unto the marriage!