The images that are evoked in our imaginations by the scripture readings today are not for the faint of heart! The story from Judges about Jephthah and his daughter is dark and frightening. It is reminiscent of the story of Abraham and his son in Genesis…but without the happy ending! It’s hard to imagine a loving father who would be willing to sacrifice the life of his young daughter as a “burnt offering” to the Lord. But, we are told, that’s exactly what Jephthah did to fulfill a vow he had made to God.
In the Gospel, we recall one of the parables of Jesus. Not one of his gentle parables but one of his most violent ones. A King destroys those who violently refuse to accept his invitation to his son’s wedding. Then, he has his servants go out and invite to the wedding feast whoever they find. The wedding hall is filled with guests, the “bad and good alike.” However, the King has his servants evict a guest who has not come to the feast appropriately dressed. They are to “bind his hands and his feet, and cast him into the darkness outside.”
Taken together these very different but violent stories caution us about taking our commitments to God too casually. The tragedy of Jephthah shows what can happen when we make commitments to God without sufficient thought. The fate of the Kings’ reluctant wedding guests illustrates what can happen when we refuse to honor our relationship with God. Both attitudes lead to darkness, heartbreak and tragedy.
There is more than an echo of the cost of God’s commitment to us in the story from Judges. God gives his only Son so that we can have eternal life. As we ponder the various consequences of commitment, both God’s and our own, we pray that we can have the courage and perseverance to live out faithfully the commitments we’ve made to God and to one another.
Father Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.