Don’t Bargain Foolishly With God

Thursday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time

Judges 11: 29-39a; Mt 22: 1-14

Dc. Larry Brockman

Harsh!  That’s what the first reading sounds like to me- very harsh.  I just couldn’t get by the literal meaning of sacrificing a daughter, no matter how I looked at it.  And so, I decided a little study was in order.

Scholars tell us that Jephthah got somewhat bold in his zeal.  So much so that he tries to bargain with the Lord; and rather than offer a sacrifice to the Lord; he tries to bargain with God by going to an extreme- human sacrifice.  But he bargains by offering to perform the sacrifice only if he gets what he wants first.  Not only that, his bargaining was tainted.   He was being shrewd by not making a commitment ahead of time on the sacrificial victim.  Only all of that backfired on him because God saw through him and made him face the worst of all possibilities, the sacrifice of his only daughter.

As I read through the commentaries, it was clear that there was much controversy about this incident.  Some of the Church fathers believe that his daughter was sacrificed only to perpetual virginity, and not death.  Others believe the daughter was ransomed, a common practice.  Some say he actually performed the sacrifice because God wanted his obedience.  And the more modern scholars say it is all symbolic.  One thing is really clear no matter which of the meanings you accept.  It was a foolish thing for Jephthah to do, to make such a foolish vow.  But you know what, many people try to bargain with God this way.

How many times do we hear about such bargaining with God?  Sometimes we hear things like this:  “I promised God that if He just gives me this one favor, I will come to Mass on Sunday”.  But God wants a full commitment; he does not bargain with us.

In the Gospel parable, people are making foolish decisions as well.  Jesus is using the King to represent God.  Those who are invited, in this case Jesus is referring to the Jews and the Pharisees, reject the invitation for no good reason.  How foolish, and they suffer the consequences for it.  And lastly, the street person who didn’t prepare properly for the wedding suffers a similar fate.  He represents the Gentiles who are now invited to the Kingdom, but don’t respond.

I suspect that many of us are guilty of such foolishness.  We are invited to God’s Kingdom now; when we die, it may be too late.  Are we postponing our invitation till it is convenient for us by always having something more important to do?  Are we here at the Church, but not really participating in spirit?  Because these are foolish responses to the invitations by the Lord.

All of us would be well advised to learn a lesson about God from these stories.  We should not try to make foolish pledges or bargains with God and we should not treat our invitation to the Kingdom of God lightly.  God always deserves our utmost respect and our full attention.


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