Immersed in Christ: January 20, 2021
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?
1 Genesis 14:17-20; Numbers 18:1-19; and Hebrews 4-14, omitted in the reading.