Monday, February 6, 2012

Christ and Melchizedek: Two towering figures in two new worlds

You may not know that Shem, the son of Noah, was he who inherited God’s blessing in the new world after the old world was baptized and thus destroyed by the flood. Shem, according to ancient Rabbinic teaching, became known as Melchizedek (cf. Genesis 14:18, Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 7:1), King and High Priest of Salem (later to be called Jerusalem); a very important Old Testament figure indeed, even more important than Abraham! And it was this Melchizedek, the King and High Priest in the new world, that would trace out the priesthood of Jesus Christ. As the only begotten Son of the Father, Jesus would succeed Melchizedek as the King and High Priest of heaven and earth. Our Lord would first take on his priestly garment by assuming human nature in Mary’s womb, otherwise known as the Incarnation. Then, his anointing as High Priest would transpire in the river Jordan. So let us begin there.

St. John, the son of Zechariah, and a descendant of Levi (one of twelve sons of Jacob and from whose loins the OT priesthood would come), would point out for all to see the New High Priest at the river Jordan. In the Gospel of John, the Baptist said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” And upon this Lamb he saw "the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him.” And out of that epiphany of the Holy Trinity, people heard God the Father speak. Indeed, after four hundred years of silence, God finally spoke again. He said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” For centuries, Israel did not hear the inspired words of any living prophet. But with the preaching of St. John the Baptist and the appearance of Christ at the river Jordan, all that changed.

When Jesus was baptized by St. John the Baptist, the public declaration of the Father’s love for the Son was accompanied by the anointing of the Spirit. Jesus would later say of himself in the synagogue: “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me.” These words from the prophet Isaiah signify a kind of consecration or priestly ordination. The words of paternal affection with which the Father spoke to his Son in the Gospel of Matthew finds its parallel from Psalm 110 in which he also says, “In holy splendor before the daystar, like the dew I begot you. The LORD has sworn and will not waver: Like Melchizedek you are a priest forever."

In the river Jordan, St. John, the son of Zechariah the priest, baptized the Son of God. But this was not just a baptism of water. No. This was a kind of ordination from the eternal Father to his eternal Son. Perhaps, this is why St. John could proclaim: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Christ, as we have seen, is not only the Lamb to be sacrificed but a priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

“It is even more obvious if another priest is raised up after the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become so, not by a law expressed in a commandment concerning physical descent but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed.” (Hebrews 7:15) At the river Jordan a new priesthood was inaugurated through which “the power of life” would be communicated to the world. This priesthood is to be found in the Catholic Church. Indeed, the Catholic priesthood is the hope of nations precisely because it communicates the Spirit who embodies the love and anointing from the Father to the Son.

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. It is also interesting to note that 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:

“[T]he 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.

As mentioned, Melchizedek was a King-Priest of Salem who blessed Abraham with bread and wine. Again, 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 centuries 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.

Fast forwarding a milennium later, we see that 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.

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.

However, today the earth seems to be under the dominion of the ungodly. At times, it even seems to be “going to hell in a hand basket.” 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)

Always keep in mind the very last chapter of world history. By doing this we will keep ever before us the end of the story and as such we will never lose heart. And what might be the end of the story? In so many words Christ says that he is that Son described in Psalm 2 who will inherit the nations. Indeed, the ends of the earth will come under of possession of Jesus Christ. As for the Prince of Darkness and his minions, they will have no inheritance. After all, did Christ not say: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world."

And yes, the Lord's conquest over evil is made manifest at every altar where the Holy Sacrifice of Mass- according to the order of Melchizek -is celebrated. We are tied to a very ancient tradition going back to the son of Noah, the very man whose life was spared in the Ark during the great flood. And even more importantly, we can daily participate in our Lord's glorification of God and his conquest over evil by frequenting the altar. This is God's way of allowing us to partake in the Son of God's inheritence before it is fully realized in time.