• David Knight

Wednesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 7:1-17; Psalm 109; Mark 3:1-6.

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

Hebrews tells us three ways Melchizedek was a preview of Jesus.

1. He was presented as “eternal.” In Genesis he appears without genealogy, no “father, mother, ancestry, beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.”

2. He was of a higher rank than the priests of Judaism, who were priests by biological descent from Aaron, of the tribe of Levi. The sign of this was that Abraham (and so Levi, who was “in the loins of his ancestor" at the time) paid him a tithe. Plus, Melchizedek blessed Abraham, and “everybody knows that the inferior is blessed by the superior.”

3. He was a priest “not in virtue of a law based on physical descent, but in virtue of the power of an indestructible life.” We saw Monday that Jesus, God the Son who became human, is a priest by nature. He receives priesthood from his very being as God and man. So Scripture testifies: “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews concludes from this that “perfection [was not] attainable through the Levitical priesthood,” since it had to be replaced by a priesthood “of the order of Melchizedek.” And so the law that restricted priesthood to the tribe of Levi (to which Jesus did not belong) was abolished. “When there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” 1

Hebrews will get to the “main point” of all this in chapter eight. But what if we want to meditate, as the Liturgy of the Word invites us to do, on this text?

It is legitimate to take something that is not the “main point” of the text. and to let it speak to us with the special meaning it has in the context of our day even though this goes beyond what the author had in mind. Let’s take the words: “his name [Melchizedek] means ‘king of justice.’ He was also king of Salem, that is ‘king of peace.’”

“Justice and peace” are in the forefront of Christian consciousness today. If they are associated with Christ’s priesthood, they are religious issues, not just political ones. But they belong to Christians’ baptismal consecration as “priest” and “king,” not to the clergy’s consecration through Holy Orders.

The Church has no authority whatsoever to declare positively what should be made a law, except to condemn laws that violate human rights. The Church tells us what is a sin; the government decides what should be a law. But every Christian has the right and the obligation to argue for better legislation, especially in defense and support of the poor and the “unvoiced.” This is our task as Christians and citizens.

The clergy have no right to give their opinions “in the name of the Church” about what particular issues should be written into law, because there is no revealed doctrine about this. But, like the laity, priests and bishops have the right to voice their opinions and argue for them, provided they don’t try to impose Church sanctions on those who do not agree with them. The Inquisition showed us what happens when ecclesiastics presume the power to tell the government who should be punished for sin! As priest and (political) “king,” Melchizedek models priesthood for all believers working for peace and justice.

Meditation: 1. Am I “priest and king”? 2. How do I combine these in action?

View Today's Readings Here

1 Genesis 14:17-20; Numbers 18:1-19; and Hebrews 4-14, omitted in the reading.

Tuesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 6:10-20; Psalm 111; Mark 2:23-28.

“The Lord will remember his covenant forever.”

Hebrews warns us before this reading that we are going to take up things “difficult to explain.” This is the mystery of Christ’s priesthood. Since three readings in a row (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday) end with “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek, we know Hebrews will use Melchizedek to explain Jesus.

Saturday the Church told us that the Scriptures read at Mass enable us to respond to the mystery of Christ:

actively with full faith, hope and love,

through prayer and self-giving,

not only during Mass but in our entire Christian life.

We see the readings doing that.

Yesterday’s reading called for “full, active” faith in Jesus as a different kind of mediator. If we accept that he is a priest by nature — and therefore forever — we can have confidence that he is “the source of eternal salvation... having been designated by God a high priest [forever] according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Today’s reading calls us to “seize the hope set before us” so that we will be encouraged to persevere in good works and in “the love we have shown by our service to his holy people.” To continue in “prayer and self-giving.”

We need to “go on showing the same enthusiasm until we reach the ultimate fulfillment of our hope, never growing careless, but taking as our model those who by their faith and perseverance are heirs of the promises.” We need to do this, “not only during Mass but in our entire Christian life.” What will help?

Hope. God made a promise to Abraham and “guaranteed it by oath.” Abraham “believed and received.” And in a sense, we who have believed have already received the fulfillment of the promise in the person of “Jesus, our forerunner,” who has entered “on our behalf” into the presence of God “beyond the veil,” where he is “seated at the right hand of the Father” and intercedes for us as our Mediator, “being made high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

This gives hope. Tomorrow’s reading explains what was so special about Melchizedek.

Hebrews prefaced this reading by saying that the “solid food” of Christian belief is “for the mature.”

Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands [Confirmation], resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

In other words, catechism instruction is not enough for an adult Christian life. We need to be disciples, “students” of “mystery”; that is, of Truth that “invites endless exploration.” The Church urges us to use the Scripture readings at Mass to spark this by “listening with an inward and outward reverence that will foster continuous growth in the spiritual life.” The Liturgy of the Word is for disciples. It calls us to be students of the mind and heart of God and helps us to answer that call.1

Most of the readings are not difficult to understand. Hebrews is. But all need to be absorbed through reflection and assimilated, made part of our life, through decisions. The “three r’s” of discipleship are: Read, Reflect, Respond.

Meditation: 1. Am I a disciple? 2. How am I seeking beyond basic teaching?

View Today's Readings Here

1 Hebrews 5:11 to 6:2 and Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass, 1998, nos. 44-48.

Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 5:1-10; Psalm 110; Mark 2:18-22.

“You are a priest forever....”

The goal of Hebrews is to present Jesus as the unique High Priest — not just the best of all priests, but a priest of a different order —just as God is not the “best” in a series of beings, but Being Itself and the Good that includes all goods.”1

Likewise, Jesus’ Sacrifice is unique: not the “best” in a series of sacrifices, but different from all others in its nature and being. To understand this, we first ask why we need any priest or “mediator” between ourselves and God. And what were sacrifices for in the first place?

We Christians grew up knowing God as our all-loving Father, to whom we have instant access. But primitive “pagans” didn’t. Even the Jews were afraid of face-to-face encounter with the Most High. When God called Moses to give him the Commandments, they said, “You talk to him; we are not going up there!” Without a revealed invitation, what creature would presume to approach God? And if we have sinned, what assures us of a welcome?2

In many religions, even Judaism, people offered prayers and sacrifices to placate God, or “make satisfaction” for sins. The presumption was that sins produce anger in God that we can remove by “paying” for them. When God forgives, the change takes place in him, not in us. And because we weren’t sure of God’s attitude, we used mediators or priests to intercede for us: special people who do not “presume to take this honor, but take it only when called by God,” as the Jewish priests were. Priests have an official “in” with God.

But these sacrifices didn’t take away our guilt feelings, because deep down we know that our sins change us, not God. They are part of our history, inscribed in our being. Forgiveness doesn’t change the fact that we did what we did and are what we are because of it. So, Hebrews tells us, these priests keep “offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.” And that is the key.

In every Mass we proclaim Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” the unique Priest and Victim, whose sacrifice “takes away the sins of the world.” This is the key to Hebrews. Unique Priest who is “priest forever.” Unique Sacrifice offered “once and for all, not to “placate” God but to take away the sin of the world.

There is only one Priest and one Victim: Jesus, who offered himself one time. We who were “baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.” We, with all of our sins, were incorporated into the body of Jesus on the cross. When he died, we died in him, and our sins were not just “paid for,” but taken away in the annihilation of death. When Jesus rose, we rose in him a “new creation,” who, by his “single offering” were “made perfect for all time.”[3] This is a new kind of priesthood!

The Church says God’s word, read at Mass, “draws us more deeply into the mystery celebrated and into the entire mystery of the Lord as a reality to be lived.” This reading tells us Jesus is our unique priest and “mediator” with God. And the Mass is our unique act of worship. Nothing, in any religion, can compare with it.

Meditation: 1. What is taking place at Mass? 2. How am I included in it?

View Today's Readings Here

1 Only the “analogy of being” allows us to use the same word truthfully of created beings and Infinite Being: they are the same and yet different. This is also true of “priest” and “sacrifice” used of Jesus and any others. 2 See Exodus 20:19-21. See also 19:9-13, 24:1-2. 3 Hebrews 10:1-14; Romans 6:1-11.

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