Many are invited but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:14)
Jesus made that statement at the conclusion of His parable in which He describes the Kingdom of Heaven as being like a king who invited many guests to a wedding feast. In that parable, the first group of people the king invites all refuse his invitation. This clearly refers to the Jews of Jesus’ time, in light of the fact that most of them rejected His call or invitation. The king then dispatches his servants to go out and invite whomever they find. Clearly this is telling us that God’s invitation to His heavenly banquet is extended to everyone, Jew and Gentile alike.
That verse, “Many are invited but few are chosen,” when taken out of context, can be a little confusing, if not downright intimidating. Just who are the chosen? Saint Jerome says that, “The chosen are those who accept the call and do not reject the invitation, like the first guests, or who do not accept it fully, like the man who comes to the dinner but does not dress in the proper manner.” (Jerome Biblical Commentary, 43:149:14)
I found that there is some debate among theologians as to who Jesus was referring to when he said, “Many are invited but few are chosen.” Was He referring to the first group of people, the Jews? Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus did say that, “My mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24) And indeed, Jesus did call all of the Jews of His time, but only a very few actually responded to His call and followed Him. Or was he referring to the second group of people, those who actually accepted His invitation and attended the feast? Or was He referring to both groups?
Since Jesus doesn’t specify, and since the statement summarizes the parable, it would appear obvious that Jesus is referring to all people. And when you think about it that way, it makes Jesus sound very sad as He makes that statement. How would you feel, for example, if you threw a big party and many of your invited guests declined the invitation? That would be heartbreaking to say the least. I think Father Musurillo said it best. “The number is small in comparison with what Christ would have wished—in comparison with the infinite price paid.” (Theological studies, page 586, by Herbert A. Musurillo S. J., Woodstock College) – (La vie chrétienne (Toulouse, 1930), II, 277)
Our God came to earth and became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ to prove His love for us and to extend a personal invitation to each and every one of His sons and daughters, to come and join Him at the banquet table that He has prepared for us in His heavenly kingdom. It is an open invitation. Salvation is not something we earn. It is an invitation that we are free to either accept or reject. But for those who freely accept that invitation, and recognize Jesus as King of that banquet, their admittance to that banquet is assured. But just like the man in the parable who was expelled from the feast for not being properly dressed, we too must, “clothe ourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you have against one another.” (Colossians 3:12-13) Or as Jesus said it, our clothing doesn’t have to be elaborate. Jesus said that we simply are to, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)