Crusade Meditations: August 2021
The Priesthood According to Melchizedek
Prophetically it is declared of the Messiah, the Son of the Virgin Mary, the “Son of Joseph”, “You are a priest forever, according to the line of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4). There is a great mystery behind these words. Who was Melchizedek and what was the significance of his priesthood? Why was this singular priest selected among all others in the OT to characterize and distinguish the priesthood of Christ?
Who was Melchizedek?
We first encounter this mysterious figure in the book of Genesis. After Abraham rescued his nephew Lot from the four kings who had taken him captive, Melchizedek, the king of Salem and also a priest of the Most High came forward and offered bread and wine in a thanksgiving sacrifice to God and blessed Abraham: “Blessed be Abram by the most high God, Who created heaven and earth. And blessed be the most high God, by Whose protection the enemies are in Your hands” (Gen. 14:19f). While Abraham retained nothing for himself, he gave tithes from everything to Melchizedek, having benefitted from his spiritual blessing.
In fact, the Jewish rabbinical tradition identifies Melchizedek with Noah’s firstborn son, Shem, who was a priest of the Most High and also king of Salem. Those scribes, studying the genealogy in Genesis, verified that the first born son of Noah, Shem lived all the way up to the time of Abraham’s son Isaac. It was only after Abram’s blessing by Melchizedek that God changed Abram’s name to “Abraham” – “a father of many nations” (Gen 17:5). Moreover, His blessing was to be especially realized in his ‘seed’ – a singular noun, referring to Christ, as St. Paul attests (Heb 2:16). Accordingly, all the divine promises of redemption to Adam and Eve, indeed, through the seed of the woman in Gen 3:15 were channeled down through the generations to Noah, the one just man, whose virtue opened the door to mankind’s salvation through the wood of the Ark! The Divine Promise and Blessing over Noah was ultimately focused upon his first born, Shem: “Blessed be the Lord God of Shem, … May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem, and Canaan be his servant” (Gen 9:26-26).
Abraham, Heir of all the Blessings!
Thus, while Abram acknowledged the singular precedence and holiness of Melchizedek over all mankind, Melchizedek himself channeled this entire blessing upon Abraham and his progeny. Isaac and Jacob inherited this elect blessing. Jacob prophetically recognized and conferred the royal title on the Tribe of Judah. And in due time, God chose David to be the ancestor of Jesus Christ: “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David My servant: I will make your dynasty stand forever and establish your throne through all ages” (Ps. 89:4-5).
The passage from Melchisedech to Abram is a crucial event in salvation history. We may express it like this: Abram was already chosen by God to leave his immediate family and country, so as to become the bearer of the God-Promise for an eternal kingdom of faith. But the promise of a son could not be granted to Abram until he had become Abraham, and he could not become ‘Abraham’ before he had become the full and sole bearer of the covenant blessing that had been vouchsafed to Shem. Shem was the only person alive who out ranked Abraham and who, as the high priest, Melchizedek, with his sacrifice of bread and wine conferred the full blessing upon Abraham. The name Melchizedek would have been given to him, presumably by God, or perhaps Noah, when he was raised to the status of priest/king of Salem.
The General Historical Plan of the priestly blessing!
Let us now consider how this royal/priestly stature was hidden in Divine Revelation? For this, we have to go further back into the book of Genesis; all the way back to Adam in the Garden of Eden. When Adam was placed in the garden, he was given a specific command by God to “work” and “guard” the Garden. These two terms, when joined together in this way are only found in those parts of Scripture, specifically in the book of Numbers, that refer to the duties of the Levitical priests when serving in the Temple precincts. These two words “work” and “guard” when placed together in this way give an implicit reference to a priestly character, they reveal Adam to be a priest. He bore a sacred trust from God.
Adam was also said to have “dominion” over all creation. The term “dominion” is a royal designation. It reveals Adam to be a king. It belongs to kings to have dominion as was the case of David and as was the case of the pagan kings like Nebuchadnezzar. So Adam was a priest and king of the Most High. It was this royal/priestly status that was passed on from father to son throughout the generations of the patriarchal period. It was this royal/priestly status that was passed on to Noah and it was this royal/priestly status that was passed on to Shem, who would take the name Melchizedek upon ascending to the throne as king of Salem and High Priest of the Most-High God in the Cosmic temple of creation.
The Levitical Priesthood!
This royal priestly status continued through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and then through the twelve tribes and was passed on from father to son up to the time of the Golden Calf apostasy in the desert after Israel was freed from Egypt. After the sin of the Golden Calf, the first born son from each tribe was stripped of his priestly character and it was given over to the Levites. From then on Israel only knew of the Levitical priesthood. It was “plan B”, a second solution due to the sin of the people.
The Davidic Line of a New Priesthood!
The Melchizedekian priesthood was restored to King David and his line and it was to “The Son of David” to whom it would be restored in a definitive way sometime in the future. This priesthood had a specific character that gave it grandeur and power. It was a priesthood that was passed from father to son by means of a blessing. It was the father who would bless the son. This patriarchal blessing revealed that it is a “father” who blesses. Therefore, when God promised Abraham that He would bless the nations through Abraham’s seed, God was revealing Himself as a “Father”. The Melchizedekian priesthood, then, reveals God as a “Father”. It is to this end that we can look to St. Joseph because he too was of the line of David and he embodied this fatherly role of the Melchizedekian priesthood in an unparalleled way save that of Our Lord Himself. To put it another way, St. Joseph reveals to us the heart of the “Father”, therefore St. Joseph reveals to us the heart of the Melchizedekian priesthood, the priesthood of the New Covenant. Let us see how he did this.
The Mission of St. Joseph with respect to the Priesthood
Saint Joseph was a tender and loving father, who had winged obedience to the plan of God. There are a few other attributes that can be pointed out which can inspire and comfort us in these trying times. Pope Francis mentions St. Joseph’s capacity to accept God’s providential will as manifested in daily life.
Often in life, things happen whose meaning we don’t understand. Our first reaction is frequently one of disappointment and rebellion. Joseph set aside his own ideas in order to accept the course of events and, mysterious as they seemed, to embrace them, take responsibility for them and make them a part of his own history. Unless we are reconciled with our own history, we will be unable to take a single step forward, for we will always remain hostage to our expectations and the disappointments that follow. (Patris Corde, 4)
It is through the acceptance of God’s will that we begin to broaden our view of life beyond our own ideas and point of view. He continues:
We need to set aside all anger and disappointment, and to embrace the way things are even when they don’t turn out as we wish. Not with mere resignation, but with hope and courage. In this way, we become open to a deeper meaning. Our lives can be miraculously reborn if we find the courage to live them in accordance with the Gospel. It does not matter if everything seems to have gone wrong or some things can no longer be fixed. God can make flowers spring up from stony ground. (Patris Corde, 5)
It is in this way that like St. Paul we can keep our eyes fixed on the goal. Never turning back, but always looking ahead. St. Joseph teaches us that fortitude is a creative virtue. It enables us to find new ways to solve existing problems. When Joseph and Mary couldn’t find lodging where Mary could give birth, he didn’t give up. He found a stable, or cave and turned it into a home. Having to flee their beloved “Promised Land” and go into Egypt, St. Joseph did all that was necessary to provide, defend and nurture his family. In all circumstances he was able to turn problems into possibilities because he trusted in Divine Providence.
If at times God seems not to help us, surely this does not mean that we have been abandoned, but instead are being trusted to plan, to be creative, and to find solutions ourselves. (Patris Corde, 5)
Just as St. Joseph was the Guardian of the Holy Family, he teaches priests and all the faithful to be guardians of the Church, which is the continuation of the Body of Christ in history. Fathers are not born, but made. It is in accepting responsibility, in some way, for another that one becomes a father. Pope Francis continues:
Being a father entails making “children” capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities. This requires chastity, in the broader sense of the term, as being the opposite of possessiveness. Only when love is chaste, is it truly love. A possessive love ultimately becomes dangerous: it imprisons, constricts and makes for misery. St. Joseph did not focus on himself, but on the lives of Mary and Jesus.
St. Joseph found happiness not in mere self-sacrifice, but in self-gift. Our world today needs fathers. It has no use for tyrants who would domineer others as a means of compensating for their own needs. It rejects those who confuse authority with authoritarianism, service with servility, discussion with oppression, charity with a welfare mentality, power with destruction. (Patris Corde, 7)
A “Father’s” authority in the Church is for the purpose of keeping his spiritual children united under one faith, one hope and one charity. In this way he makes a gift of himself, by serving for the sake of unity. He uses his authority for the sake of maintaining unity. And it is through our unity that the world may know that the Father sent His Son. But this unity has many diverse expressions and everyone needs to cultivate their own particular talents.
A father must realize that he is most a father and educator when he becomes “useless”, when he sees that his child has become independent and can walk the paths of life unaccompanied when he becomes like St. Joseph, who always knew that his child was not his own but had merely been entrusted to his care. (cf., Patris Corde, 7)
St. Paul teaches us to make of our bodies a living sacrifice to our God. This means that everything we do can be an offering to God. Our very lives become a liturgy. This is the essence of the Melchizedekian priesthood. And while it is true that the Son of Joseph empowers us to do this through His Eucharistic Sacrifice, St. Joseph himself is the example of how to live out this great mystery, this priesthood.
The Patriarchal Priesthood was restored and transformed by the “Son of Joseph” and we were all given a share in His threefold office of Priest, Prophet and King. St. Joseph gets to the heart of the Melchizedekian priesthood and teaches us to love with the heart of a father, with the heart of “The Father”.
~Fr. John E. Brohl, ORC
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