Matthew 20:16 and 22:14, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” (NIV)
In the gospel of Matthew chapter 22, Jesus tells a story of a king who sent out invitations to a banquet—first to his friends, and then to any who would come. Jesus closes this story with the line, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” Jesus only uses this phrase twice in the gospels, and the first is just a few stories before in Matthew chapter 20, when he tells a story about a landowner who goes out to find workers for his field (*some early manuscripts do not include the quote in Matthew 20:16).
These two stories are very similar in structure and theme: Invitations go out first to the few and then to the many. In the first story, the reward is the wages; in the second, the reward is the banquet itself. Both stories seem to focus on people freely choosing or refusing an invitation. So, why would Jesus conclude, “many are invited to be saved, but only few are chosen to be saved?” He wouldn’t. Because, that isn’t the point of these stories.
Neither story mentions anything about people being chosen, but rather highlights how two different groups (early and late) are invited, and how each of those groups respond to the invitation. In the first parable, some of the workers who were hired earlier complain when their wage is the same as that of workers who were hired later in the day. Jesus says through the landowner, “Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?” In other words, you freely chose to accept the offer I made—these were the terms. And at the end of the banquet parable, the same “rules” are assumed when the guest who was not properly dressed in wedding clothes was kicked out of the party: You freely chose to accept the invitation, and these were the terms. Jesus closes both of these stories with the statement, “many are invited, but few are chosen.”
The greek word for chosen is eklektós. “Eklektós” was a title that the entire nation of Israel wore proudly. They referred to themselves as “the elect,” “the chosen,” the ones to whom belong “the adoption to sonship,…the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises” (Rom. 9:4). When Jesus tells these two stories—remember, he’s telling them to the few, to the chosen, to the Jews—he gives character and voice to the initial few (the early group) to whom the invitations were sent. In the landowner story, the first recipients were laborers who later complained of being treated unfairly. In the banquet story, the few chosen recipients turn down the invite, with the exception of one who shows up spurning the king’s dress code.
Those who were listening to Jesus tell these stories would have immediately sensed a subtle critique—an indictment to their chosenness. He had been declaring God’s imminent kingdom and passing out invitations to “the Jews first.” Many Jews were not responding to the invite. The “many are invited” is a forewarning and foreshadow of the landowner’s generosity, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matt. 20:15). It’s as if Jesus is saying, “I’m about to let everyone in on this deal. Make sure you yourselves don’t miss it.”
A strong point can also be made that eklektós is referring to those who choose (as the grammatical subject of the sentence), not those who are chosen (the grammatical object). In other words, the chosen are a who, not a whom. Regardless if you think this a grammatical stretch, it demands consideration since the logic of each parable highlights the choice of each invitee, not their lack of choice.
[Taken from my book, Catharsis: A Spiritual, Emotional, & Biblical Journey Out of the Tensions of Religion]