The other lectionary reading set for Holy Communion today is Judges 11:29-40, the salutary tale of Jephthah.
Jephthah is willing to sacrifice for his family. He resolves that, if God gives him success, he will sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his home to meet him on his return. Undoubtedly he expects this to be the family cow or a goat, the animals being kept in the home at night and driven out again in the early morning.
Jephthah travels through the night to get home, only to be met by his daughter, delighting to see him.
I am certain that in this moment, God is offering Jephthah an opportunity to humble himself—as a general rule, it is good to be true to our word, but sometimes we need to repent of our folly—but alas, the father sets his resolve to sacrifice his only child.
This is a story that is repeated again and again. Countless men (most often, men) set out prepared to sacrifice for their family, only to end up sacrificing their family. Failing to see their children grow to adulthood. Losing them for ever. Others sacrifice their own inner child, who delights in the world, in exchange for success that brings no joy.
An old, old story that could not be more contemporary to us.
Work is good, and success is a necessary stage in our development; but work makes a poor master, and success a poor goal. The temptation to workaholism presents to us the dream of escape, for our family, before becoming escapism from our personal commitments, and, finally, a prison cell. Or a tomb.
This is the end of the story.
And yet we believe in a God who raises the dead; in a story where the end need not be the end...