In the first reading from Judges we read about Jephthah who was willing to lead an army against his enemies, the Ammonites. He asked the Lord to help him to defeat them. Jephthah made a vow to offer as a sacrifice the first person whom he would meet coming out of his house when he returned. With the Lord’s help he defeated the Ammonites, his enemy. On his return home it is his daughter who first comes out of his house, playing tambourines and dancing. Jephthah as you can imagine is overwhelmed. When he saw her, he ripped his garments and said, "Oh, my, daughter, you have struck me down and brought calamity upon me. For I have made a vow to the LORD and I cannot retract." She replied, "Father, you have made a vow to the LORD. Do with me as you have vowed, because the LORD has wrought vengeance for you on your enemies the Ammonites." Then she said to her father, "Let me have this favor. Spare me for two months, that I may go off down the mountains to mourn my virginity with my companions." "Go," he replied, and sent her away for two months." So she departed with her companions and mourned her virginity on the mountains. At the end of the two months she returned to her father, who did to her as he had vowed." She was sacrificed.
We have a serious, painful situation. Jephthah, himself, didn’t want to be killed along with his men by the Ammonites. He asked the Lord for help. He anchored it in a vow. The Lord heard his vow and Jephthah returns the victorious leader. He couldn’t be happier. But then he sees his daughter coming out of his house. She is to be the one sacrificed! Unfortunately, he blames her! Yet he is the one who made the vow. On the other hand, his daughter amazes me with her wisdom.0..that precious gift that helps us to see the whole picture. "You made a vow. You must keep it. The Lord accepted your promise." She has not lost her respect for her Lord. She does not curse Him. She sees the truth that life here on earth is a gift that will continue to unfold in the afterlife. She has she not lost her respect for her father. She does not curse him. But she does realize that her life is coming to an end. She is a woman who is a virgin. She is sad. She asks for time to be with her friends, to mourn her loss of marriage and motherhood.
This all brings me to moment of truth. There are many people like Jephthah’s daughter whose lives have been affected by the decisions of others. We have feelings, we have dreams, hopes, plans for the future. But death may come in unexpected ways: abuse, accidents, war, persecution, racial and religious prejudice and violence, and many other ways. These are not our choices. Others have inflicted these on us. And so, death deprives us of the fullness of life.
Do you and I need to slip into the Garden of Gethsemane to kneel with Jesus? Jesus was not abandoned even though Jesus was well aware of the prophesies that the Messiah would be asked to give his life for the ransom of his people. The disciples found great difficulty in accepting that Jesus was to suffer and die. They will walk with him on the glorious Palm Sunday. But, not on Good Friday. Only later would they understand His great love and willingness to undergo the passion and death on the cross. Almost all of them died a martyr’s death.
In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus would face the reality of his suffering and death which would cause him to sweat blood, and to ask his Heavenly Father, "If it be possible, let this cup of suffering pass away from me." The reality of His passion and death are there. And He adds, "Not my will, but yours be done." His love for His Father is firm. "Here I am Lord, I come to do your will. And what about you and me?
Fr. Peter Berendt, C.P. is on the staff of Holy Name Passionist Retreat Center, Houston, Texas.