Yesterday's first reading is one that I always find profoundly disturbing. I know that the Old Testament authors don't moralize, but merely present stories and consequences, forcing us to draw conclusions. It's been explained to me time and again that Jephthah made a stupid promise rather than asking God what He wanted. Yet this reading unsettles me every single time.
But Father glanced past a fascinating point yesterday, upon which I have dwelt ever since. Human sacrifice was not just a pagan practice - it was a pagan cultic practice. It wasn't just a thing Gentiles did; it was an integral part of how they worshipped their gods.
We see over and over throughout the Old Testamenthow the people of God strayed from His commands and worshiped other gods. This is not just a tragic story of a great man making a stupid vow, and consequently sacrificing his only daughter. This is yet another story of the importance of worshipping God the way He has asked us to worship Him.
One can be successful, even winning great victories for God's people, and still worship Him in a horrifyingly wrong way. That makes the victories no less triumphant, the man no less well-intentioned. But how much less tragic our lives might be if we just followed the liturgical customs God has given us!
Dominum Deum tuum timebis, et ipsi servies ac per nomen illius iurabis.