The story of Jephthah's vow is one of the saddest in the Bible. It is a warning against any kind of bargaining with God. Promising to sacrifice the first living creature he encounters if the Lord gives him victory over the Ammonites, Jephthah returns home to be greeted first by his only child, a daughter (we are never given her name). He is horrified at what his vow now requires and he gives her time to 'bewail her virginity' before the vow is carried out.
The gospel reading too is full of violence, murder and mayhem. We hear of another leader, a king, who is determined to have a proper wedding feast for his son. When the guests invited refuse to come and even beat and kill his servants, he sends in his troops to kill them. Others are then invited, anybody and everybody, so that there will be a full house for his son's wedding. But there is then the issue of a missing wedding garment, and a man being thrown out for not wearing one.
As if one ought to go around always with a wedding garment to hand, just in case a stranger invites you to a wedding. Well, that is one of the lessons of the parable, to be ready always because you do not know the day or the hour.
Each story is strange, and there are warnings and moral lessons to be found in them. But like so many readings in the Bible they come alive and reveal their full truth only when we read them Christologically, when we refer them to Christ. We believe that in his suffering and death, the Son of God has drawn to himself all the violence and primitive fears of the world, all the hatred and betrayals that corrupt and distort human relationships. In short, he is our saviour and our redeemer.
We know now who the only child is who has been sacrificed, given up for us all, as a ransom for our salvation. We know now who the one is who has been stripped of all his garments, of all entitlements, emptying himself even to death on a cross, standing in solidarity with all who have been cast out. But we see salvation in these events because we believe that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. That reconciliation comes about not through some iron laws of ritual or vow-taking, not through primitive understandings of sacrificial killing, but simply from the love and obedience of the Only Son, the One closest to the Father's heart, who in our sinful world followed the course He did in order to reveal God's heart to the world.