Biblical Readings for each day's Mass,
(for the Liturgical Year 2021)

Thursday, August 19 2021
Week 20 in Ordinary Time

1st Reading: Judges 11:29-39

After Jephthah's rash vow, he sacrifices his only daughter

The spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh. He passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, "If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord's, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering." So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them; and the Lord gave them into his hand. He inflicted a massive defeat on them from Aroer to the neighbourhood of Minnith, twenty towns, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.

Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, "Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow."

She said to him, "My father, if you have opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has given you vengeance against your enemies, the Ammonites." And she said to her father, "Let this thing be done for me: Grant me two months, so that I may go and wander on the mountains, and bewail my virginity, my companions and I." "Go," he said and sent her away for two months.

So she departed, she and her companions, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. At the end of two months, she returned to her father,who did with her according to the vow he had made.

Responsorial: Psalm 39:5, 7-10

R./: Here am I, Lord: I come to do your will

Happy the man who has placed his trust in the Lord
  and has not gone over to the rebels
  who follow false gods. (R./)

You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings,
  but an open ear.
You do not ask for holocaust and victim.
  Instead, here am I. (R./)

In the scroll of the book it stands written
  that I should do your will.
My God, I delight in your law
  in the depth of my heart. (R./)

Your justice I have proclaimed
  in the great assembly.
My lips I have not sealed;
  you know it, O Lord. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14

At the royal wedding, the invited guests decline to attend

Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, 'Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.' But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.

Enraged, the king sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen."

A rash conscience

It is futile to defend Jephthah's rash and violent action, even when its background is explained in the text. This gruesome story is a classic instance of violence towards women. Caught in a military crisis, he vows that if successful, he will offer in sacrifice whoever first comes out of his house to meet him. "When I return in triumph; I shall offer it up as a holocaust." This was a shocking vow; for the first to meet him was his only daughter, who came out dancing for joy at her father's success. Jephthah allowed her two months to mourn her virginity, since now she cannot marry and have children. Then she returned to her father, who carried out his terrible vow.

Not everything done in God's name, even in the Bible, is positive guidance for us. Fortunately we have the story of Abraham and Isaac to offset the horrible error of Jephthah. The final verse in Judges is another useful warning, "In those days there was no king in Israel; they all did what they thought best." The entire Book of Judges prepares us for the Davidic royalty, a radical change from the earlier Mosaic traditions.

This episode makes us question our own motives and promises. Do we act impulsively to the harm of others? Do we try to justify everything we do? Do we abuse authority as if everything we want to do is right? Are we open to correction by common sense advice from others?

While Jephthah acted rashly based on a false conscience, the gospel calls us to act firmly on a good conscience, guided not just by tradition but by humbly seeking the will of God. The punch-line of the parable shows that gentiles from the byroads will enter the wedding feast, once reserved for Jews alone. Eventually God will be judge of all, and will decide who can enter the banquet of eternal life. Till then we must wait and believe, and trust that we too are called in from the byroads.

An invitation not to be refused

Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God as a wedding feast to which many are invited. The feast is a frequent image of the kingdom of God, and suggests God's gracious hospitality. The Eucharist can be understood as anticipating the banquet in the kingdom of heaven. At the Eucharist we not only remember the Last Supper but also look forward to the banquet of eternal life. At the Last Supper Jesus said "I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."

In the parable of the wedding banquet, many of those who had been invited turned down the invitation at the last minute, just when everything was ready. Even some of those who turned up did not take the event seriously and were dressed inappropriately. God invites persistently, even after many refusals. We are expected to respond, sincerely and gratefully. Our sharing in the Eucharist is itself a response to the Lord's invitation. Yet, we have to prepare in the right way, clothing ourselves with Christ, as Paul says. We go out from the Eucharist as ambassadors for Christ, the one we have received and who gives us life.