Daily Reflection
August 19th, 1999
Janet Barger-Lux
Osteoporosis Research Center
Judges 11:29-39a
Matthew 22:1-14

The first reading, from the book of Judges, relates a story from the time when the tribes of Israel were conquering the land.  A chieftain named Jephthah is called to lead his kinsmen against the Ammonites, who occupied territory in present-day Jordan.  Though a follower of Yahweh, Jephthah’s beliefs seem to include beliefs of the pagans among whom his clan lived.

In return for a military victory, Jephthah promises Yahweh the life of the first of his household who comes out to greet him on his return.  Victory takes place.  But it is Jephthah’s daughter, his only child, who comes out to greet him!  Despite the calamity and Jephthah’s pain, he does not question the validity of his vow.  Nor does his daughter question his life-and-death authority over her.  But before she is offered to Yahweh, she asks for a time to go away with her companions and “mourn her virginity on the mountains,” that is, to grieve the fact that she will die without children.  Jephthah’s daughter mourns what might have been but never will be.  After two months, she returns to face her fate, later to be celebrated has a heroine.

The idea that God would be pleased with the burnt offering of a human being, whether Jephthah’s daughter or someone else, repels us.  One commentator suggests that perhaps there was a mis-translation and Jephthah’s daughter’s life was consecrated, rather than sacrificed, to Yahweh.  More simply, in this ancient tale of one of the heroic chieftains (“judges”) of early Israel, the understanding of God was, well, primitive.  Still, in trying times, aren’t we still inclined towards quid pro quo with God?

The reading from the Gospel of Matthew presents another version of what God is like.  God is like King who hosts a grand dinner party on the occasion of his son’s wedding.  Those first invited to the banquet snub the invitation.  Eventually (OK, after anger and vengeance), the King fills their places by extending the invitation to others, pretty much to everyone.  The guests turn out to be surprisingly (especially to Jesus’ audience) diverse.  [The passage goes on to a second, probably unrelated, parable about preparedness.]  Even today, in a different age, a different society in a different part of the world, weddings occasion celebration, and celebration occasions feasting.  The banquet remains a powerful symbol (and experience!) of joy and community, and the host a powerful symbol of hospitality and generosity.

Sometimes, like Jephthah’s daughter, we fall to mourning what might have been but never will be.  Yet, in the midst of deep disappointment, even desolation, here is an invitation to a banquet grander than we can imagine.

Dear God, help us look up from what troubles and distracts us today.  Grace us with awareness that You are with us always, in our desolation and in our joy.  Help us to hear Your invitation and to answer it with a YES that grows in strength and endures for the rest of our lives.  And on that day, in Your good time, wipe away our every tear and welcome us into Your grand banquet of endless joy.

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