Jesus or Melchizedek?
The first reading of today (Hebrews 7:1-3; 15-17) presents us with the mysterious figure of Melchizedek (king of Salem and priest of God Most High). Interestingly, we can ask ourselves whether Jesus, who is the eternal High Priest, is a priest in the likeness of Melchizedek, or if Melchizedek is the one modeled on Jesus. Put in another way, is Jesus’ priesthood modeled on Melchizedek’s, or is it Melchizedek’s priesthood that is modeled on that of Jesus?
In reality, the both perspectives can be said to be contained in our text of today. The author of the Letter to the Hebrew’s says that another priest, that is Christ, arose in the likeness of Melchizedek, and the quoted Psalm says verbatim: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”. However, the author also writes that Melchizedek was made in the likeness of the Son of God.
In the context of our first reading today, the author recognizes a prefiguration of the Risen Christ in Melchizedek, who presents himself without a father, without a mother. The Bible does not speak of the parents of Melchizedek, and this is very strange for a priest, because in the Old Testament, for one to be a priest, it was necessary to belong to a priestly family and, therefore, it was important to speak of parents. But of Melchizedek nothing is said: neither the father nor the mother is named; no genealogy is given, it is not said when he was born or when he died. Those details are clearly lacking.
In this mysterious figure, the author sees with admiration an image of the Risen Christ, who has neither earthly father nor mother, because the newness of life of the resurrection does not have an earthly origin. The risen Jesus is also the Son of God in his human nature and thus remains a priest forever. So, we can confidently say that Melchizedek’s priesthood is also modeled on Jesus, since he is “made to resemble the Son of God”; who we know is Jesus.
Christ the Priest and Priests of Today
Christ, the High and Eternal Priest, has a priesthood, such as that of Melchizedek, which is not transmitted; a priesthood that he will exercise in his Church until the end of time. The priests we have today in the Church, starting with the bishops, are not his successors, strictly speaking, but those who actualize and make the one priesthood of Christ visible and effective today. Priests today share in the priesthood of Christ, not succeeding him, because Christ remains a priest forever.
Furthermore, while it remains non-transferable, the priesthood of Christ is “shared” by all the people of God, by the whole Church, because the whole Church is the body of Christ. Thus the promise that God made to Moses for all the people on Mount Sinai is fulfilled: “If you will listen to my voice, you will be my treasured possession among all peoples… You will be for me a holy nation, a royal priesthood” (Ex 19:5-6).
Effect of Baptism
Baptism is the “sign” of belonging to this privileged people. A Christian must, therefore, make an effort to deepen the meaning of baptismal life, by studying and listening to the word of God, and with an ever more full participation in the sacramental life of the Church, as sharers in the priesthood of Christ.
Personal questions: How often do you read the Bible and try to obey God’s instruction contained therein? How seriously do you take your sacramental life as a member of the Church?