Rev. Dr. Delesslyn A. Kennebrew, J.D., M.Div. - Visionary Strategist  Faithful Innovator  Inspirational Essayist
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Salvation and Stilettos Blog

Many Called, Few Chosen - Matthew 20, 22

Scripture: Matthew 20, 22

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BlogFam, I hope that you already know that the original language of whatever translation of the Bible we read is NOT English.  I hope that this is not a revelation to you but if it is, then take a quick breath and keep reading.  I hope that you would embrace this new knowledge.  The original languages of the Bible are Hebrew for the Old Testament and Greek for the New Testament.  I do not profess to be proficient in either language but knowing that there are textual challenges in translation from the original language to English is a critical piece of knowledge for biblical scholars around the world.  This reality presents itself in today’s post. 

The very popular phrase – MANY ARE CALLED BUT FEW ARE CHOSEN – is in and of itself a very clear illustration of the diverse opinions regarding biblical translation and interpretation.  For example, this very popular phrase in the Gospel of Matthew is in two places in the King James Version and in only one place in the New International Version following the same parables.  I am in no way advocating one version over the other as it relates to either translation.  I am very open minded when it comes to consulting a variety of interpretations especially because I am not proficient in either of the original languages.  I will look up words and phrases in scholarly sources as references and clues to what the authors meant when they wrote certain passages.  Thus, I admit that my fascination for the biblical text demands that I consult multiple versions of the Bible in order to get the best understanding I can as I read and as I prayerfully hear the Spirit speak.

In today’s selected verse, we read a phrase that has often been quoted in a variety of situations in context and out of context, appropriately and inappropriately.  This is not unusual.  There are many words, phrases, and verses that we have all used in ways that the original authors did not intend.  However, on today, I would like for us to reconsider the phrase at hand.


This phrase is in two different places in the Gospel of Matthew.  I do think that it is significant that Matthew would record that Jesus said this at two different times.  In Matthew 20, it is at the end of the parable about the hired laborers and in Matthew 22, it is at the end of the parable of the wedding banquet. And based on textual considerations/evidence, it means the same in both places. 

On first hearing of this phrase, as it is popularly utilized, it denotes division and separation, in crowd – out crowd notions.  It is often quoted in order to emphasize the exclusion of one group or another due to their lack of whatever the speaker is referring to.  It is rarely used by those who do not already think of themselves as a part of the few, the elite, the best of the options available at the time. 

In Matthew 20, the phrase follows Jesus telling the parable about the hired laborers.  The householder needed laborers for his vineyard and the householder hires laborers throughout the day even at the eleventh hour.  At the end of the day, all of the laborers received the exact same pay.  When those who had been hired in the morning found out that those who had not been there the same amount of time as they had, received the same pay, they grumbled and complained without recourse.  The householder says:

But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong:
didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
And then Jesus says -
 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

In Matthew 22, the phrase follows the parable about a wedding banquet where the king and father of the groom invited folks to the wedding and the wedding feast.  They did not accept the invitation and there was a violent interlude and then the king sends his servants out again to invite some different people – good and bad – and wedding was furnished with guests. One of the guests came dressed inappropriately and the king confronts this wrongly dressed guest.

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.
And then Jesus says -
 For many are called, but few are chosen.

My focus is the parallel of the common phrase in Matthew 20:16 and Matthew 22:14.  What does our focal phrase mean?  Well, while it may be read in different ways, today, I strongly suggest that in context, Jesus intended to tell us all – Jews and Gentiles – that everybody is invited to labor in the vineyard and to enjoy the feast of the Kingdom.  Everybody is invited to share in the work of the Kingdom and to receive the benefits of accepting such invitation.  Everybody is welcome to serve and to eat at the King’s tables.  Many are indeed called.  However, not everybody will respond favorably to this call.  Not everybody will answer the call at the same time and not everybody will come dressed appropriately to serve or to feast. 

Friends, the grace that our Lord illustrates in these parables is not an exclusionary grace.  The invitation is extended for all to come.  The invitation may not be extended to all at the same time, but all will at least get one.  AND not everybody will accept the invitation – and if it is accepted, it will not be accepted at the same time.  Only a few will accept this invitation to all.


On, today, the bottom line lesson is that we all have or will receive an invitation from the Master to serve in the vineyard and to celebrate at the Master’s table.  If there is any division or separation, in crowd - out crowd notions, it exists only to the extent that those who are not serving in the vineyard or feasting at the Master’s table have not yet accepted the Master’s invitation.  We are not to use this phrase as a way to promote our own position, place, or popularity in the Kingdom.  However, we are to use this phrase as our Lord has done so in these passages, with an OPEN mind and an OPEN heart to invite all to come to work in the Kingdom and to celebrate the opportunity to be nurtured by the feast the Master will provide.  We are, therefore, chosen when we accept the Lord’s invitation to serve and to be nourished at the feast.

So, BlogFam, if you have not accepted our Lord’s invitation, today, I invite you to serve in the Kingdom using your gifts and talents as the Lord will grant you opportunities.  Today, I also invite you to join the company of men and women around the world who are being nourished in the presence of the Almighty.  I pray that you would say YES. 

And to those of you who have already accepted this invitation, I pray that your conversation and actions would not prolong the acceptance of this invitation by others.  If you have already accepted this invitation, I pray that you are looking for other creative ways to serve in the Kingdom and that you are encouraging and not discouraging or judgmental to those who have not been serving as long as you.  I also pray that you would not take for granted your access to the nourishment you receive at the Lord’s feast and that you would be clothed appropriately in righteousness and holiness as a servant of the Most High. 


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