Melchizedek: The mystery Figure of the Old Testament
Today in the Letter to the Hebrews we read about Melchizedek, “king of Salem and priest of God Most High.” You may have even heard, maybe at the ordination of a priest the line, “You are a priest forever in the Order of Melchizedek, which is mentioned at the end of today’s first reading. But who is he?
We first encounter Melchizedek in the book of Genesis. Abraham, having defeated five kings encounters Melchizedek who mysteriously appears on the scene, bringing bread and wine, and as quickly as he arrives he leaves. What are we to make of this?
There are a few important references for us to consider in gaining some understanding of this mystery figure. First, Melchizedek is not a proper name, but a title. He is the “king of righteousness” and given the mystery of the moment is identified first with the coming Messiah but ultimately with the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is substantiated by the fact that Melchizedek has no relatives before or after, and like Jesus at the Last Supper offers bread and wine. That he seems to have no beginning or end also reinforces that he could be seen as a Christ-figure. Some evangelical scholars even suggest that he might be an angel, or even Christ himself.
Without father, mother, or ancestry, without beginning of days or end of life, thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.” (Hebrews 7:3)
The import for us today is that the figure mentioned in Hebrews reminds us of God’s providence. As people who have sinned and fallen, the Christ-figure Melchizedek reminds us of God’s great promise of salvation and that it is one that comes out of all eternity from the providence of God.
Moreover, there is a powerful connection between the use of bread and wine by Melchizedek, and the use of bread and wine at the Mass. Just as Melchizedek had no ancestors or descendants, and therefore was not chosen high priest by lineage, so too Jesus Christ is now the High Priest, not as one who comes next in a genealogical line of people, but as the true Messiah, the Son of God.
This signifies that Jesus is the ultimate high priest who not only offers the sacrifice but is in fact himself the sacrifice. All this reminds us that God loves us and calls us to accept his salvation and to know that even though we sinned, his sacrifice is all the more powerful, as it is the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Next time you are at Mass, remember that it is the case that you are part of the great sacrifice of Jesus who gave his life for you. He loves you as his beloved son or daughter. And he in fact wants so much for you to enter into the life-giving relationship he wants to have with you, that he gives himself for your salvation.
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