Thursday, August 23, 2007

Homilist's nightmare

Today's readings are the sort that no homilist really wants to touch. In the first reading (from Judges), there is a story of human sacrifice, and the Gospel parable has the "King" throwing someone out of a party for not wearing a wedding garment. What do you do with that?
Actually, the reading from Judges is a good one for noticing the different ways the Bible treats certain subjects. In it, the hero of the day makes a vow that if God gives him victory in battle, he will sacrifice whomever comes out to meet him on his return. You'd think that God would have him lose the battle, but no, he wins. It is his daughter who dances out of the door to greet him. The storyteller plays up the poignancy of the scene: the child comes out playing the tambourines and singing. And that's not all. She's an only child. And she meets the fate her father had vowed.
Taken in isolation, this story could be interpreted as a normative example: there is no commentary, none of the Deuteronomic homilizing about "and so the LORD punished this abomination" or anything. The horror of child sacrifice is so understated that it catches the heart unprepared. But if we were to go by the mere letter, we would miss that.
It's a good guideline for those who would single out a passage or group of passages from any religious texts and attempt to characterize the whole religion by them. It seems to me that the best interpretive tool for a religious text (taken as a whole, of course!) is in the lives of its holiest adherents. Through them, we see the full story.


Anonymous said...

I was pretty grossed out, too, but the inspiring story of St. Rose of Lima offset the likes of the warrior hero, Abraham and Isaac and Herodias's request via her daughter for St. John the Baptist's head ala carte.anon

Anonymous said...

I remember from years ago one homilist's interpretation of the wedding guest's fate: he explained that at that period in time, if a guest did not have anything suitable to wear, the host would supply appropriate garb. SO, the guest, in showing up in shabby garments, rejected the host's gift and was summarily removed from the festivities.---harv681