Trinity 20 Sermon, 2016
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
“Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).
If we take that at face value, we’ll get it wrong and miss the point (the grace, the mercy!) that Jesus has in mind.
Here, “many” means “all” and “few” means “not all.”
It’s a Semitic idiom, that’s what it means: all are called, not all are chosen. But, over time, words take on the meaning that’s applied to them. So, for example: If you are “disinterested” in something, what are you?
“Disinterested” means “unbiased” not “uninterested,” but because people use the word incorrectly, it has taken on that meaning.
Have you heard of the phrase: “Blood is thicker than water”? What does that mean?
Would you be surprised to hear that it actually refers to friendships being stronger than family relationships?
In the saying, blood refers to the blood of a covenant that friends choose to enter into. Water refers to the bag of waters that often breaks when a woman goes into labor. How many of you have friends that are closer to you than some family members? That’s what the saying means. But since people use it and mean the opposite, that’s how the phrase is understood.
In today’s gospel lesson, “many” means “all” and “few” means “not all,” and we can compare this to a gardener and a chef.
How many tomatoes will a gardener pick? We can very easily say “many,” right? But no gardener intentionally leaves perfect, ripe tomatoes behind. So while it’s true that a gardener will pick “many” tomatoes, we also understand that a gardener intends to pick them “all.”
Sometimes, many means all.
And so it is with God’s invitation to salvation. Many are invited, and you can rest assured that that means you, because, here, many means all.
Now, a chef will take those same tomatoes and single out the choice few for the feast and cast the others aside where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The choice ingredients are the ones we use.
No one eats the green and black potato chip at the bottom of the bag. Actually, my wife does, and it grosses me out every time.
And if an apple has a mushy bruise or a rotten hole, you cut it away and use the rest.
So it is with God’s election. All are called. All are invited. God desires all to be saved. But few are chosen. That is, not all rejoice in the truth.
Many are called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.
That is, all are called.
But only a choice few are present for the feast.
The last verse of today’s Gospel lesson—“Many are called, but few are chosen”—helps us understand the parable that Jesus speaks:
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come” (Matthew 22:2-3).
In the history of the Church, the Jews were singled out as God’s peculiar people. He cut a covenant with them and loved them. And would have gathered them together as a hen gathers her own, but they would not (cf. Matthew 23:37).
Nevertheless, God is persistent in His call to save.
“Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them” (Matthew 22:4-6).
In a parable, this kind of description is hyperbole. It’s an intentional overstatement of things to emphasize your point.
If someone spurns your invitation, you don’t kill them and burn their city. No one does that! If you’re invited to a party you don’t want to go to, you don’t kill the mailman who delivered the invitation. No one does that!
Jesus’ point is, the prophets were treated like that. They brought the message, the message was rejected, and the messengers were beaten, stoned, and killed.
In His lament over Jerusalem, Jesus describes the city as one “that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (Matthew 23:37).
St. Stephen, likewise, is stoned to death. Jesus’ disciples were treated this way, too.
In the parable, in response to this, “The king [became] angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (Matthew 22:7).
If you follow Jesus’ parable as a description of the Jews, in the history of the Church, then you know that Jesus is talking about the judgment and destruction of Jerusalem. Six centuries before Christ, and the same century as Christ, Jerusalem is judged and destroyed.
Now, we usually talk about judgment and God’s wrath only in terms of eschatology, the end times. But Jesus makes it quite clear that God, who invited to salvation the Jews who so routinely rejected the invite, God destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
Rejection of God’s Son—and that’s ultimately what it means to reject God’s invitation to salvation, rejection of His Son—rejection of Jesus as the Son of God brings certain judgment on the last day—of course—but it also results end-time judgment now, judgment from God within the life-span of the chief-priests and Pharisees who spurn the reign of Jesus the Christ.
We can’t ignore this. God visited His people. They killed His servants, the prophets, and His Son, the Christ. And so God’s just judgment was rendered against them temporally.
Jesus says to the chief priests and Pharisees, just a few verses before today’s Gospel lesson, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore, I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:42-44).
The chief priests and Pharisees heed no warning from Jesus. They do not repent. They are crushed. Destroyed. Judged. And the kingdom of God is taken from them and given to a people producing its fruits.
“[The king] said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests” (Matthew 22:8-10).
God used the rejection of the Jews to save us, which was His desire all along. Israel was God’s peculiar people until Jesus’ death. Then the Gospel was taken from the Jews and given to the Gentiles, to us and all the world.
God also used the rejection of the Jews to shame them. Salvation for the Jews is still possible and desired, but they’re not the peculiar people of God they once were. They no longer have any unique standing before God.
“When the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 22:11-13).
We can’t be surprised here.
Jesus’ disciples included Judas, the betrayer. It can’t surprise us that the visible Church, casting her net far and wide, will inevitably mirror the world and be composed of both good and evil men.
In simpler terms: you don’t know anyone else’s heart.
St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, “There must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (1 Corinthians 11:19).
All of this should make us a little uncomfortable. It should make us a little worried.
Consider that, sitting in the wedding hall, there was one without the proper wedding garment of faith and salvation.
Consider that he was cast out…
That the disciples included a Judas…
That the visible Church is composed of a mix of evil and good…
That there must be factions and divisions among us…
None of this is comforting.
What if we lack the proper wedding garment? What if we betray? What if we’re evil? What if we’re our own little faction in an otherwise happy and faithful congregation?
Here is the place of the Gospel in our lives of doubt.
Jesus says, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).
Many are called. And that means all. And that means you.
There’s never a reason to doubt, to think that God no longer desires your salvation. If you wonder if there is, there’s not. Many are called. And that means you.
Maybe you are your own faction. Maybe you seek division and confrontation. Maybe you are evil. Maybe you’re the Judas to someone else’s Christ, the Brutus to someone else’s Caesar.
God’s vineyard is made up of former outcasts and rejects who’ve repented and have been gathered and grafted in by the Son.
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sound forth your Amen! to God’s gracious invitation.
Honor the rejected cornerstone, Jesus the Christ.
Agree that the Law is good. Repent! Love and serve God by loving and serving your neighbor.
Remember, the required wedding garment is provided by the host, the king. The man didn’t have one, because he abandoned it.
The garment required for the wedding, for salvation, God has already given it to you and to all the baptized. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).
Many means all. All of you who are baptized have put on Christ and His righteousness.
Many are called. Few are chosen.
Many means all. And few means you.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!