Called to the Feast Print
Written by Toby Sumpter   
Friday, 13 November 2009 10:19

When we read that “many are called, but few are chosen” (Mt. 22:14), any number of reasonable questions may occur to us. Perhaps we try to draw Calvinistic diagrams, connecting the dots from divine sovereignty, human freedom, and inscrutable decrees. We scrawl figures and numbers all over the chalk board with our tongue stuck in the corner of our mouth. Or maybe we wonder about the difference between “called” and “chosen.” Is there really a difference? But obviously there is a difference and the “called” people apparently get the small part of the wishbone. Too bad for them. But what about those chosen ones? Why’d they get chosen? Was it like auditions and they got the call back?

The word Jesus uses for “called” is kletoi from the root verb kaleo. This noun is used less than twenty times in the Old Testament Septuagint, but almost immediately a pattern emerges.

It’s used once in Exodus and once in Numbers in almost a word for word sentence. “…and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you…” The word shows up most frequently in the Old Testament in Leviticus, some eleven times in Leviticus 23, always meaning a “convocation,” a called event. Leviticus 23 lists the feasts of Israel, and the feasts repeatedly include “holy convocations.” The Sabbath is a feast day, and on it Israel is to proclaim a “holy convocation.”

Passover and Unleavened Bread are feasts which include specified times for “holy convocations.” So too there are to be “holy convocations” at the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Feast of Tabernacles, and even the Day of Atonement. These are the festivals of Israel which are to be proclaimed as “times of holy convocation.” They are “called” events. They are feasts to which all of Israel is invited.

Later in Judges, 2 Samuel, and Kings the Septuagint uses the word to describe “guests” at various feasts, but frequently there is betrayal and intrigue wound through the narratives. Likewise, Zephaniah uses the word in a harrowing description of a great judgment. Yahweh is throwing a sacrificial feast to which He has invited guests whom He will slaughter. These are the sorts of guests who later wish they weren’t.

And after we have climbed back up the ascent of the Old Testament texts to Jesus’ words in Matthew, we really ought to find the sight wonderful and glorious. There, in Matthew 22, we find these words – “many are called, but few are chosen” – on the tail end of a parable, the parable of the great wedding feast. And we find ourselves saying, ‘Of course, of course!’

Israel ought to have been well versed in the theology of invitations and callings. Wound through their calendar was a cycle of callings, invitations, constant invitations coming from Yahweh. ‘Come down to the Tabernacle, come down to the Temple, come down to the feast. Join Me with My people and rejoice in our covenant feasts.’ But all the signs are that Israel was not faithful. Israel repeatedly rejected the invitations. Nehemiah records the fact that Israel celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles after returning from exile for the first time since the days of Joshua (Neh. 8:17). Exile itself was an explicit punishment for failing to keep the Sabbaths for the land (2 Chr. 36:21). And we can only imagine that the rest of the feasts were similarly neglected and despised.

Israel was used to spurning Yahweh’s invitations. Israel practiced making excuses when the invitations arrived, when they were called to the feasts. And thus when Jesus says that the kingdom is like a wedding feast to which many have been called and invited, surely there is this entire redemptive-historical narrative standing like the elephant in the room. Many have been called, and if the entire Old Testament festal calendar was like an elaborate rehearsal dinner, the feasts have been disgracefully silent and sparsely attended. And when the Bridegroom arrives and the invitation is still spurned, the invitation goes out to others.

So perhaps what’s even more wonderful is this broader understanding of what it means to be “called.” To be called by God is specifically to be called to a feast. To be called is to be invited to a marriage supper, a festival, a Sabbath, a holy convocation. To be called is to be the friends of the wedding party, invited to join the celebration. And who are the “chosen?” Given the context and given a similar glance at the Old Testament usage, we should quickly conclude that the “chosen” are the grateful guests. The chosen are those who come, those who keep the feast with gladness and sincerity of heart. Those are God’s select friends, His choice companions, His prized people, those who gather in His presence and keep the feast.

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Last Updated on Friday, 13 November 2009 10:59