Today’s first reading is, frankly, perplexing. An Israelite makes what sounds like a very foolish vow, and then his daughter willingly complies with the tragic consequences by letting herself be burnt as a sacrifice to God.
Is God pleased with human sacrifice? We know from other parts of Scripture that God does not, in fact, want or like human sacrifice, which was a pagan practice. On the contrary, the one time that God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, God stops Abraham and provides an animal to sacrifice instead. God was testing Abraham’s loyalty, and never intended to have Isaac be sacrificed. So, why on earth are we reading this text at Mass, when there are so many other texts that have clear messages? I must admit, I’m really not sure.
There probably are valid ways of interpreting this text symbolically or allegorically. However, there is at least one message (probably more) we can gather from this text taken literally: we must take our commitments to God very seriously, and we will be held responsible for fulfilling them. We have all made promises to God and to others in His presence, whether it be at baptism, at the renewal of our baptismal promises at Easter, at marriage, or – in my case – at priestly ordination. We should ask ourselves: do we remember what we have promised? Do we take it seriously?
The Gospel reading also reminds us that we have to to keep those promises if we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The king invites everyone to the wedding feast, but only those who make the effort of dressing appropriately are allowed to stay. The wedding garment is often interpreted as an image of sanctifying grace. While God wants all to be saved, we have to make the effort to remain in God’s friendship. When we break our vows to reject sin and to live according to the faith of the Church, we can seriously damage that relationship. When that happens, we need to renew our friendship with God through the sacrament of reconciliation, or we risk being “cast into the outer darkness.”
However, it can be more helpful to focus on the flip side of this truth. May God grant us today to renew our commitment to love God above all things, and to love our neighbors as Jesus loved us. Then we will be welcomed into God’s heavenly banquet where we will rejoice forever with all the people, from every nation and walk of life, who have also lived to love.