Read Judges 11:29-39, Psalm 40 & Matthew 22:1-14.)_
_“And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, ‘If thou wilt give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes forth from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the LORD's, and I will offer him up for a burnt offering’” *(Judges 11:30-31).*_
Our first reading today narrates a very moving story, one that many might not be aware of its existence in the Bible. Jephthah made a vow to God saying that if God would give him victory in battle, he would offer whoever comes out first of his house upon his return will be offered to God as a burnt offering.”
In other words, Jephthah was willing to offer human sacrifice to God in exchange for victory in a battle. True to his words, when eventually Jephthah succeeded in battleground, he actually offered his only child (a daughter) to God as a burnt offering because she was the first to come out of his house to welcome him with timbrels and with dancing.
Definitely, this story raises a lot of questions, but before we begin to raise such questions, it is important to bear in mind that God did not command Jephthah to offer anyone to Him. Jephthah made a promise out of his own free will (personal choice) unlike the case of Abraham who was specifically asked by God to offer his Son, Isaac as a burnt offering which eventually turned out to be merely a test of Abraham’s faithfulness (God provided a lamb in place of Isaac).
In fact, it would be wrong for anyone to try to use this passage to support the practice of human sacrifice. God never requires us to offer our children to Him. In the book of Ezekiel, we read: “Thus says the Lord GOD: Will you defile yourselves after the manner of your fathers and go astray after their detestable things? When you offer your gifts and sacrifice your sons by fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, says the Lord GOD, I will not be inquired of by you” (Ezekiel 20:30-31).
Now, you may wonder, why is such a cruel act contained in the Bible? In other words, what lessons do we learn from Jephthah’s actions? Simply put, no one is ever forced to make a vow to God, but *once you have vowed and God keeps His part, you must fulfil your part*. For instance, on the day of your marriage, you made a vow to God to be faithful to your spouse till the day you die. Also as priests or professed religious, we also made vows on the day of our ordination or consecration which we are supposed to fulfil.
Now, by choosing freely to make a vow to God, you draw God’s attention to your marriage or your life as a married person or as a priest/religious. As God helped Jephthah succeed in battle, God blesses your home, He enables you to receive the powers of ordination. It would be a very grave evil if you go against your vows to God. This is why you must think very carefully before making any vow to God. Note that it was not the vow itself that made Jephthah succeed in battle. The Bible abounds with examples of great men and women who prayed without making any promise to God and God still heard their prayers and granted their requests.
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus gave a parable of a wedding feast to which the invited guests failed to show up forcing the King to send out servants to bring in as many people as possible to the wedding. This story teaches us of grace (unmerited favour). In truth, it is by God’s grace that we are Christians. Something happened during the marriage feast, the King discovered there was one who came into the feast without a wedding garment. Not only was this man bound hand and foot, but he was also cast into the outer darkness; a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Just as no one forced Jephthah to make a vow, no one forces anyone to marry in the church or to become a priest or a sister. So also, no one forced this man into the marriage feast. He came on his own. He was supposed to do just one thing; put on a wedding garment (i.e. obey the rules, play your part, be faithful to your vows) like all the others who were invited freely. But in the end, he got what his actions deserved.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, grant that I may be faithful to my vows to the end, Amen.
*Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (Thursday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time. Bible Study: Judges 11:29-39, Psalm 40 & Matthew 22:1-14).*