Wednesday of Week 2 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17

We now continue to reflect on the meaning of Jesus Christ as our priest. Today’s reading speaks of Jesus being “in the order of Melchizedek” and discusses both the similarities and differences between the Old Testament figure and Christ.

The author explores the significance of applying Psalm 110 (“You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek”) to Christ. He relies on the only reference to Melchizedek, a mysterious king-priest, in the Old Testament, where he is described as meeting with Abraham (Gen 14). The author presumes that he belonged to the beliefs of Israel and not to some other religious group.

As that reading affirms, he is the King of Salem and a priest of the Most High God. He encountered Abraham, who was returning from a battle, and blessed him. In return, Abraham gave him “one-tenth of everything”, suggesting that Melchizedek was superior to him. While so doing, we are told that Melchizedek “brought out bread and wine”, and perhaps it is this, in the mind of the author, that partly links Christ’s priesthood and that of Melchizedek, with overtones of the Eucharist.

We are told the Melchizedek means ‘king of righteousness’ and Salem means ‘peace’. Salem is part of the name of Jerusalem. The messianic blessings of righteousness and peace are foreshadowed in these two names. In modern Arabic, the word for ‘peace’ is salaam.

The more obvious link of Melchizedek with Christ is that Melchizedek has no father, mother or ancestry, his life no recorded beginning or ending – something rather unusual for a personage in the Old Testament. In this he is seen as similar to the Son of God, one who “remains a priest forever”. The rabbis maintained that anything not mentioned in the Torah does not exist. Consequently, since the Old Testament nowhere mentions Melchizedek’s ancestry, birth, or death, the conclusion can be drawn that he “remains…forever”.

This, says the Letter, is even more obvious when “another priest” appears, resembling Melchizedek in many ways. Like Melchizedek, Christ did not become our priest through the legal requirement of belonging to a particular priestly family (as in the case of the Levitical priesthood). Jesus actually belonged to the non-priestly tribe of Judah.

Christ became priest “through the power of an indestructible life”, brought about by his resurrection. It is his being “raised up” that makes him our priest rather than his divine nature.

The reading concludes with a repetition of Psalm 110:

You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus, then, is our High Priest but on a totally different level from the priests of the Jerusalem Temple. Again, the writer is emphasising to his Jewish readers the very different status of Jesus compared to the old order to which they are tempted to return.

Sometimes in our Church, we find people who hanker for the past and fail to understand the necessary changes which an incarnated Church needs to make if it is to be able to communicate effectively with a rapidly changing world.

Note – Melchizedek is mentioned, together with Abel and Abraham, in the First Eucharistic Prayer.

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