Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What You May Not Know About Sunday’s Gospel Reading: The Baptism of Christ III

Christ was “raised up after the likeness of Melchizedek” from the waters of the river Jordan. Tradition has it that the Lord was baptized where Joshua crossed the Jordan. After forty long years in the desert, Joshua and the Levitical priests led the Israelites across the river into the Promised Land. This crossing was immediately memorialized by having one man from each tribe erect a stone. In the book of Joshua chapter 4 it reads:

“…the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Choose twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, and instruct them to take up twelve stones from this spot in the bed of the Jordan where the priests have been standing motionless. Carry them over with you, and place them where you are to stay tonight…these stones are to serve as a perpetual memorial to the Israelites.’”

St. John the Baptist may have referred to these stones when he said to the crowd, “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” The baptism of Christ, it would seem, signified a crossing from the land of darkness to the Promised Land of Heaven; a crossing that was to be led by Jesus and his faithful priests. It was appropriate, then, that the heavens opened up above the Son of God who had received the anointing of the Holy Spirit in the river Jordan.

Melchizedek was a King-Priest of Salem (later to be Jerusalem) who blessed Abraham with bread and wine (Genesis 14). According to the ancient Rabbis, Melchizedek was none other than Shem, the eldest son of Noah who inherited his blessing. It was through Shem that God’s blessing would continue. From the Ark of Noah, which landed in the mountains of Ararat (modern day Turkey), Shem migrated to a land that would later be known as Israel. He then founded the city of Salem and consequently built a castle or a palace there.

Abraham, his great, great, great etc. grandson, inherited the blessing from Shem (who inherited the blessing from Noah, and Noah from God). And part of that blessing was the inheritance of the land that belonged to Shem. Unfortunately, Salem, as well as the surrounding land that belonged to him, was seized by the Canaanites centuires later; a pagan people who sacrificed their children to the god of Baal. Approximately four hundred years after Joshua and the Israelites migrated to the Promised Land from the desert, another king, King David, reclaimed Salem and built his palace on the ruins of Melchizedek’s palace.

Some three years after his baptism, Jesus Christ- who was a priest according to order of Melchizedek -celebrated the Last Supper by consecrating bread and wine into his body and blood in the Upper Room. It just so happened that the Upper Room was built over what was once David’s palace and tomb. It was on this historic spot that the priesthood of Jesus Christ, fashioned after the likeness of Melchizedek, put into effect the highest form of prayer- one most pleasing to God –that is, the Holy Mass. And it is from this room, on Holy Thursday, that the renewal of the world would begin.

As St. Padre Pio once said, "It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do so without the Holy Mass." The consecration of the bread and wine into the glorified substance of the Risen Christ is but the beginning of that total transfiguration of the universe. Indeed, the Fathers of the Church taught, and without apology, that God created the world for the Church; that is, for elect who would be saved by the blood of Christ. And Jesus himself said that the meek would inherit the earth.

Today the earth seems to be under the dominion of the ungodly. But in Psalm 2, God the Father made a promise to God the Son, and that is to reclaim what has been lost. "I will proclaim the decree of the LORD, who said to me, 'You are my son; today I am your father. Only ask it of me, and I will make your inheritance the nations, your possession the ends of the earth.'" (Psalm 2:7-8)