Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Reflections for the 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – A Misguided Vow

Today's first reading is enough to make us sit up and take notice if we're even remotely paying attention. Jephthah has been specially selected by the Spirit of God to be one of the judges, or leaders, of Israel. His task is to defeat the Ammonites, the latest enemy bearing down upon the little nation.

Jephthah, however, is a rather rash man, and he doesn't think before he speaks. He is so intent upon overpowering his enemy that he makes a horrible vow to God. He swears that whenever he defeats the Ammonites, the next person who walks through his door will be sacrificed as a burnt offering.

He quickly lives to regret his impulsive words. The first person who walks through his door after his victory over the Ammonites is his own daughter.

Jephthah can't see a way out of his dilemma. As heart-broken as he is, he thinks he is trapped by his vow. 

Surprisingly, his daughter agrees with him. She has only one request: to spare her for two months so that she and her companions may mourn her virginity. Jephthah allows this, but when she returns to him at the end of two months, he sacrifices her according to his vow.

So how do we interpret this story? What are we to think of a father who sacrifices his daughter to God? How could such a thing ever be willed by God? How could He accept such an offering?

First, we must understand that this sacrifice was not willed by God, and He did not and does not accept such offerings. 

The Psalm gives us some important clues about what was really going on in this story. 

“Blessed the man who makes the Lord his trust; who turns not to idolatry or to those who stray after falsehood.” Jephthah didn't trust the Lord. Instead, he tried to make a deal with the Lord. He would give God something back if God gave him something he wanted. That's not how things work. God is not a deal broker. Further, Jephthah had some very mistaken notions about God. He treated God as though He were one of the pagan idols. Those pagan “gods” (and especially their priests) were all too happy to accept human sacrifice and keep their “worshipers” properly fearful and under their control. God is simply not like that, but Jephthah thought He was. He bought into a lie, and the price was his daughter's life.

The Psalm then tells us what God would rather have instead of the horror of human sacrifice. “Sacrifice or oblation You wished not, but ears open to obedience You gave me. Burnt offerings or sin-offerings You sought not; then said I, 'Behold I come.'” God would have infinitely preferred Jephthah's trust, intimate love, and obedience. God wanted Jephthah to consecrate himself, not as a burnt offering, but as a living, breathing, loving human being set aside for God's service. God wanted Jephthah to do His will, follow His law, and joyfully praise Him in the midst of Israel. If Jephthah would have done that, he would have truly gained victory over his enemies. As it was, he may have conquered the Ammonites, but he met defeat at the hand of an even greater enemy, who was all to happy to draw him away from God and into idolatry and horror.

Friday – A Prayer for Every Day

“Teach me Your paths, my God, guide me in Your truth.”

Pray today's Gospel Acclamation every day for the next week. Don't just say the words. Really mean them. Then open your heart and your mind. God has much to show you, many places He wants to lead you, many truths He wants to tell you, more love to share with you than you can ever imagine, infinite grace to pour out on you. Pray this prayer, and then let God do what He does best.

Saturday – Servant Leadership

In today's Gospel, Jesus defines exactly what it means to be a leader: “The greatest among you must be your servant.”

* A servant leader truly cares about his or her followers, knows them well, respects them, and wants them to succeed.

* A servant leader works to help his or her followers grow spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and professionally.

* A servant leader recognizes the talents and abilities of his or her followers and actively works to develop them.

* A servant leader communicates openly and honestly.

* A servant leader listens to his or her followers, acknowledges and tries to respond to their concerns and needs, and answers their questions.

* A servant leader delegates and supervises but never micromanages.

* A servant leader digs in and works side by side with his or her followers.

* A servant leader is a good problem solver who creatively addresses each issue with an eye toward the well-being of both individuals and the overall organization.

* A servant leader tries to heal and strengthen relationships among his or her followers.

* A servant leader opens himself or herself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and makes Jesus Christ the model of his or her leadership.

“The greatest among you must be your servant.” That is true leadership.

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