Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Kingdom of the Chosen

For many are called but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:14)

Many get invited; only a few make it. (The Message)
Jesus gives the chief priests and Pharisees this final parable about entering into the kingdom of Heaven on Earth:
The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, “Tell those who are invited, ‘See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.’” But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.

But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, “The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.” So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.

But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, “Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:2-14)
At the conclusion of the parable, Jesus asks them no questions, rhetorical or otherwise. The meaning is plain enough. They knew well enough that He was talking about them, thought they would, no doubt, have taken great exception to it. But they were like the wicked vinedressers of the previous parable, who killed the servants, and finally the son, of the landowner. And now, in this parable, they are like those who were invited, but who disregarded it, and some even killed the king’s servants. Jesus later speaks to the scribes and Pharisees, no longer in parables, which offered them an opportunity to repent, but indicts them directly:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.” Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt.

Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. (Matthew 23:29-35)
God gave an invitation to come celebrate His Son, an invitation to the “wedding feast” (foreshadowing the “marriage supper of the Lamb” in Revelation 19:9). But the religious leaders mostly ignored and rejected it, sometimes violently, even killing His prophets. They were not very happy about the Son, either, and wanted to kill Him as well.

In the parable, the king was not pleased; he had the murderers destroyed and their city burned. Then, since those he had originally invited would not come, he had his servants go out where the crowds were and gather people in to fill up the wedding hall. A great honor, which was initially shown only to a few, was now extended to all, “both bad and good” — that is, regardless of who they were or what they had done.

This corresponds with history, for the Jewish leaders did indeed reject Jesus, the Son of God, and plotted to have Him crucified. Within a generation, their city, Jerusalem, was burned (this happened in AD 70). Meanwhile, the invitation of the Gospel was offered to all, Jew and Gentile alike.

In the parable, the guests show up, but the king notices one who has not dressed appropriately. In ancient times, it was often the custom for kings and other notables, when they hosted weddings and other affairs, to supply their guests with robes befitting the occasion. But here was a man who, though he did not reject the invitation to come, decided that his own garments would be good enough. He was summarily ejected.

The garment God is looking for is one of repentance and faith, a heart of humility, not a display of arrogance. There are many people who are called to God’s feast but who want to come on their own terms. God has provided the appropriate attire for them but they believe their own is sufficient. It is not.

The kingdom of Heaven on Earth is a kingdom of the chosen. The invitation is given to all but we each must respond by faith, depending fully on the faithfulness of the King instead of on our own identities or deeds. For many are called, but only those who believe are chosen.