Many Are Called, But Few Are ChosenMany Are Called, But Few Are Chosen
The intent of this parable is to put in plain words the process by which the called are chosen.
First Things First: The “Many” and the “Few”
It is easy to misunderstand the word “many” in the New Testament, because it has slightly different meanings in Greek and in English. In both languages, it refers to a large group. In English, “many” is restrictive, but in Greek it is inclusive. In other words, if I say “many of the people came” in English, it implies that most of them did not. If I said the equivalent of “many of the people came” in Greek, it would imply that practically everyone did.
In this case, we are dealing with a Greek usage that divides the whole into two unequal parts, which are called the many and the few. In Greek you might say, “The many are on time, but the few are late.” The English equivalent is, “Most are on time, but some are late.” In Greek, “the many” and “the few” add up to everyone; just as in English, “most” and “some” add up to everyone.
In this parable, everyone was invited to the wedding, but the invitation went out in two waves. The respectable people were invited first, but they did not heed the invitation or they only pretended to accept. They lied, they pretended, but the result is that they didn’t show up. So the king told his slaves to send out the invitation again to the people who were not originally on the invitation list, and these people actually did show up. One of them was not wearing a wedding garment, so he was thrown out. In those days, the host furnished the wedding garments, so anyone who wasn’t properly dressed was very disrespectful.
In the end, everyone had been invited, but only a few were permitted to stay for the wedding. In other words, everyone is called, but some people refuse the invitation and are not chosen.
Another Purpose for the Parable
Another purpose of this parable is to prepare the disciples for the fact that when they evangelized the Jews, they would meet with disappointment for the most part, and that they should turn to the gentiles, whom they would otherwise consider unworthy. The bit about the man who avoided the distribution of the wedding garments means that the second group cannot presume acceptance, any more than the first group can presume acceptance because they are Abraham’s children. Just being called doesn’t mean you are chosen; you have to respond appropriately in your faith and conduct and then you are chosen.
Of course, Christians are presented with the problem that the gospel is Jewish, but Jews for the most part do not accept it. There are two theological explanations:
The first explanation comes from Paul and it parallels this parable. If the worthy had accepted the invitation, the unworthy would never have been invited; that means if the Jews had accepted the gospel, the gentiles would never have been evangelized. So the Jews’ rejection of the gospel is not Jewish stubbornness, it is divine providence, so that all can be saved.
The second explanation is that God wants to preserve the Jews as a witness to the One True God.
The Called and the Chosen
This parable does not mean that God calls a lot of people, picks over them, and keeps only a few. This means that God calls everyone and gives them the power to respond—but to be chosen, we must respond to the call, using the power God gave us for that purpose.