Tag Archives: priesthood

From Melchizedek to Adam

Replica of the Temple menorah, made by the Temple Institute, Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem.

The Lord has sworn and will not waver:
“You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek.”

Psalm 110:4

The dreamlike quality of the mysterious Melchizedek defies logical analysis and reasoning. Efforts to pin down his identity from ancient times to the present have failed. The Spirit of Scripture seems unvexed by analytical demands for clarity, for the historicity of the King of Salem adds nothing to the portrait of Christ, the eternal high priest. In fact, the very silence of Scripture on Melchizedek’s origins becomes the springboard for “arguing” to the eternal priesthood of the Son of God.1

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

Melchizedek is considered a “type” of Christ, as Adam and David are types of Christ. The entire edifice of the book of Hebrews rests on typology, a kind of overarching analogy that sees earthly realities as coming from and returning to a perfect, eternal model in heaven.2 Unlike a step-by-step rational argument, a typological “argument” is more like facial recognition. 

To see a World in a Grain of Sand 
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour 

William Blake

Instant recognition of “a Heaven in a Wild Flower” is poetic, holistic, and intuitive rather than logical and rational. The author of Hebrews similarly expects his listeners to recognize Melchizedek in Christ and Christ in Melchizedek.

The psalm that invokes Melchizedek out of the dreamlike past was inspired by the Spirit. For David had no precedent for saying, “The Lord says to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand’” (Psalm 110:1). We do not know how David understood “my lord,” but Jesus interpreted the psalm as pointing to himself, the Son of God (Mark 12:35-37; Matthew 22:41-46).

David linked his kingship to a priesthood prior to the Mosaic law and the covenant of circumcision, for Abram met Melchizedek before he received his new name. The mysterious “king of righteousness” appeared and disappeared without a trace, blessing Abram during a sacred feast of bread and wine.

Abraham never forgot his encounter with Melchizedek for the story passed down from generation to generation. Hymns may have been composed in honor of this Canaanite priest-king who is “without beginning of days or end of life.” Melchizedek points to an eternal sonship beyond time and history.

Priesthood and sonship are thus inseparable and return to God the Father as origin. Apart from creation, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit pre-exist with an incomprehensible glory without reference to creatures. Priesthood appears with the Incarnation. 

When we speak of Christ’s priesthood, what else do we mean than the incarnation?

St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, bishop (c. 467-532)3

The Incarnation and priesthood
begin in the beginning 
before the beginning
in the mind of God.

According to the blueprint of typology, Adam was made in the image of Christ, the “firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). The perfect Adam preceded the Adam of Eden in the divine mind, but descended from him in the Incarnation.

Return to the beginning
of the heavens and the earth,
When the Father gave his temple
and creation new birth.
King Adam, priest and son of
the garden sanctuary,
Protected paradise and
with all creatures made merry.

Primordial priesthood began with the first-created person, Adam. Selfless generosity characterized every action of Adam, the son of God in the Son of God.

Priesthood and sonship are thus synonymous with self-gift, for the Son is an eternal gift from the Father in the Spirit. The cosmic human person is a temple modeled on the Trinity. 

Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection restored the original priesthood of Adam and humanity. The Levitical priesthood, instituted on account of Egyptian idolatry and sin, was superseded by our priest of paradise: 

holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens.

Hebrews 7:28

The veil protecting the tree of life in the garden of Eden, symbolized by the branches and blossoms of the menorah in Solomon’s temple (Exodus 25:31-40), was removed by the eternal high priest who granted access to the divine presence (shekinah) in the Holy of Holies.  

The Holy of Holies is the human heart.

But this is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them upon their hearts. I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Hebrews 8:10

-GMC

Related post: Melchizedek’s Feast

1 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote to Hebrews 7:3.

2 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote to Hebrews 8:2.

3 From a letter by Fulgentius of Ruspe, bishop. See Liturgy of the Hours, Second Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, Office of Readings.

Living Nanoscope

Christ Pantocrator, Cathedral of the Transfiguration, Cefalù, Sicily, 12th century. Licensed by Andreas Wahra under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time (Year I)

Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 2:13-17

An eye for microscopic detail, a steady hand, and ultra-fine motor skills are required of surgeons in the operating room. Cataract surgery or blood vessel repair demand technical finesse and expertise.

Medicine has advanced by leaps and bounds in the modern era as studies of the most intricate anatomical structures have reached the nanoscopic scale, even to mapping the entire human genome.

If the life of the body (bios) is complex, how much more delicate must be the life of the spirit (zóé)? What kind of scalpel or nanoscope divides and heals the thoughts and intentions of the heart? 

A surgeon’s scalpel is a non-living tool that divides living tissue, but the divine scalpel is a “living” (zaó from zóé, divine breath of life) and “active” (energés, energetic) personal being who is all eye and light. Nothing slips from this all-seeing, razor-sharp eye because all things are contained in it.

Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.

Hebrews 4:12-13

The “word of God” is first of all Scripture, post-patristic commentators point out, critiquing the Fathers for misapplying the Johannine Logos to Hebrews.1 However, lectio divina (sacred reading) is not only a study of words in a book but encounter with the living God. Receiving the word by ear and heart unites the hearer to the Word himself by divine, energizing grace. 

The Spirit of God transports human persons from the word to the Word, from the eye to the “I AM,” and from the ear to the silent Voice in the depths of God.

“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him,”
this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.
For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.

1 Corinthians 2:9-10

The sword of the Spirit makes our spirit one with his by cutting away all that is alien to divine grace. Delicate incisions between soul (psuché) and spirit (pneuma), “joints and marrow” of our inner being purify our nature for divine communion. Thoughts, reasonings, intentions, images, forms, dreams, concepts and ideas are all illuminated by the Spirit.

But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 1 Corinthians 6:17

The transformation from the psychological (psuchikos: animal, sensuous) to the spiritual (pneumatikos: of the Holy Spirit) is the work of God.

Now the natural (psuchikos) person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually. The spiritual (pneumatikos) person, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone.

1 Corinthians 2:14-15

The human person is the new temple of the Holy Spirit, of the same nature by grace as Jesus the great high priest who has severed the curtain between humanity and the Father.2

From henceforth all children of the Father are one in the Son of God. All are one in the priesthood of Christ:

But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9

Untouchables, pariahs, “tax collectors and sinners” are all loved and welcomed by our high priest and humble shepherd.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

Hebrews 4:15-16

-GMC

1 Examples of this critique can be found in Meyer’s NT Commentary and Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges.

2 Mark 15:38; Matthew 27:51; Luke 23:45; Hebrews 10:19-20. 

We’re Called

We may think our relationship to God is a personal affair that doesn’t depend on anybody but ourselves, but that’s not so. Others help us on our way to God. Our gospel reading for this Sunday, for example, tells us that John the Baptist told some of his disciples to follow Jesus and Andrew brought his brother Simon to him. More than we know, others lead us to God.

Instead of a lonely journey, we go to God together. Another way of saying it is that we belong to one body, a church.  Much of our knowledge and faith in God comes from others. We’re not lonely believers.

Our first reading is about the young boy Samuel whom God has chosen for a special mission among the Israelites. His mother senses this and sends him to spend some time in the temple; she hopes the priests there will help him understand what his calling is.

The young boy hears God calling in the night but it’s a very indistinct call; he’s a young boy and he doesn’t know what to make of it. The old priest Eli doesn’t help much at first. He tells the young man there’ s no one calling, go back to sleep.

Finally, the old man recognizes that God is calling the young man. This isn’t the first time someone from an older generation doesn’t understand someone younger.  An early example of the “generation gap?” The story, we learn, is not just about a young boy finding what God wants him to do, but it’s also about someone from an older generation helping him find out.

 

After awhile, the old priest gives Samuel the right advice: “Go to sleep, and if you are called say ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’”

That’s wise advice. The old priest is telling him, first of all, believe God speaks to you. Then, listen humbly as a servant, without letting your own ideas intrude. Become a listener and hear what God wishes to say. Pray.

An elderly man from California calls us every few months to ask for copies of a little prayer we publish called “Be With Me Today, O Lord,” which he distributes to schools and churches in his area. It’s a simple prayer you can find over at Bread on the Waters, where a lot of prayers like this can be found.

The prayer says that God has something for us to do today and everyday; we have a mission in life and it asks God to point that mission out so that we can do it.

“I have a mission…

I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.

God has not created me for naught… Therefore I will trust him.

Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away.

God does nothing in vain.

He knows what he is about.” (J.H. Newman)

We’ re links on a chain, a good image of how we fit into life’s larger picture. God hasn’t created us for nothing. We all have a mission in life, but we need people to help us know it.

Our Sunday readings might suggest one particular calling we need to think about and pray about and promote today–vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We need good priests and religious for our church and our world. God calls young men and young women. But they need others, like Eli, to support them in their call.

Next Saturday in our monastery in Jamaica, New York,  the Passionists are having a “Called by Name” weekend for young men who may be called to our community. I’m part of it. Know anyone who might have a call? Pray, and like Eli could you also encourage them to listen to God’s call?