Difficult Questions

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

Both Scripture readings for today's Mass are difficult. From the Book of Judges we read of what appears to be a human sacrifice made as an act of thanksgiving to God for delivering the enemy into the hands of Jephthah. The Gospel reading offers us the man who is invited to the wedding feast but is thrown out because he doesn't come wearing a wedding garment.

We are shaken to the core by the notion that Jephthah would offer his daughter as a human sacrifice. This incident reminds us, however, of the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham was prepared to offer Isaac as a human sacrifice because he believed that God was asking it of him. We breathe a sigh of relief when an angel stays Abraham's hand from slaughtering Isaac. There is not sigh of relief in the story of Jephthah. If you google the words "Jephthah's Vow," you will find page after page of Bible commentators who offer their take on the story. There are those who maintain that Jephthah did not, in fact, offer his daughter as a sacrifice but merely prevented her from having children, thus killing off his own memory. However, there are also those who try to illustrate that Jephthah lived among people who regularly offered human sacrifices, that such an act would have been culturally acceptable though humanly abhorrent. What lesson can we learn from this passage? Why does the Church even use it in the liturgy?

Then there is the case of the king who orders his servants to bring in all manner of people for his son's wedding banquet. When he comes upon one of those rounded up by the servants and sees that he has no wedding garment, he has him thrown out. It seems a rather unfeeling response to someone who wasn't on the original guest list. What lesson does this teach?

First of all, we have to remember that the Scriptures spring out of human experience. As such they are documents that reflect cultural, sociological, and historical realities that are different than ours. In the case of Jephthah, the lesson we can derive from his story is that it does not pay to make wild promises to God in the hopes of gaining God's favor. Such bargaining is completely out of place. Jesus taught us this by his simple prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane which can be reduced to, "Please remove this cup; but if I must drink it, your will be done."

Secondly, the man without a wedding garment was asked to explain himself, but he was "reduced to silence." Again, this response to the king's question is out of place. The man should have explained his difficulty and begged the mercy of the king, begged to be forgiven.

While both instances don't exactly sit well with our human experience, our culture, our social structure, both stories illustrate that our relationship with God must be one of openness and honesty, remembering who we are and who God is.

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