May 29, 2016
Gen 14: 18- 20
1 Cor 10: 16-17
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle
“In those days, Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine” (Gen 14: 19).
|Meeting of Abraham & Melchizedek by Dieric Bouts the Elder|
The 3 verses of our 1st reading are the only direct reference to Melchizedek , both “king of Salem” and “priest of God Most High,” in the Bible. He’s referred to later in Psalm 110 (our responsory today) and especially in the Letter to the Hebrews, ch. 5-7, seen by them as foreshadowing the Messiah ruling in God’s Holy City—Salem is identified with Jerusalem—and as an image of the Son of God, eternal priest.
For today’s feast, tho, our attention isn’t on Melchizedek himself but on the unusual sacrifice he offers. The occasion—“in those days”—is Abram’s return after his pursuit and defeat of raiders who had carried off flocks, herds, and people belonging to Abram and other nomad chieftains and their allies in the towns of the plain near the Dead Sea—including Abram’s nephew Lot.
As you know, in the Old Testament the usual sacrifice was of an animal: a bull, a sheep, a goat, something quite precious to nomads like Abram and later also to settled farmers like most of the people of the Mediterranean world.
But Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God, brings out bread and wine. It’s pretty certain that this wasn’t a sacrifice but a meal. You can note that the text links his bringing out bread and wine with his kingship, and separates that from his priesthood and his blessing of Abram. Commentators interpret his providing bread and wine to mean that he supplied food, and many of them take it to mean that he fed Abram’s men, not just Abram. In today’s liturgical context we see here a parallel with Jesus’ feeding the crowd of his disciples (Luke 9:11-17), and we’re certainly supposed to see the actions of both Melchizedek and Jesus as prefiguring the Eucharist. The Roman Canon has always seen Melchizedek’s offering in that way—particularly as a celebratory meal marking the victory over one’s enemies. Melchizedek says as much: “God Most High delivered your foes into your hand” (14:20).
Our Eucharist celebrates that, of course. Our Lord Jesus Christ has vanquished his foe and ours, the prince of darkness, the lord of death, the evil one who seeks to capture our souls and enslave them for eternity. God Most High, the Father of our Lord Jesus, delivered his foes into his hand, and as Abram redeemed his people by victory in battle, so our Lord Jesus has redeemed us, that he might bring us home safely
The Letter to the Hebrews notes that Salem means peace; Melchizedek is “king of peace” (7:2). We make that attribution to Jesus, who is our peace and our reconciliation with God (cf. Eph 2:14-16). Jesus effected our peace and reconciliation thru his own sacrifice, and that sacrifice is rendered present, active, and effective every time we break the bread and share the cup that enable us to participate in his body and blood, i.e., in his sacrifice (1 Cor 10:16-17).
As priest, Melchizedek blessed Abram. In this too he prefigures Christ, who is the source of all our blessings. As we pray in Eucharistic Prayer 3, “through Christ our Lord” the Father “bestows on the world all that is good.” And so we also pray regularly in the liturgy “through Christ our Lord” for whatever blessings we need and hope for from the Father—especially the ultimate blessing of redemption.