Just about every Sunday we hear his name.
The priest, standing at the altar, recites the Eucharistic prayer and mentions that name – Melchizedek – during the prayer over the gifts.
Who? Who is this mysterious man who appears in Genesis and spends some time with Abraham? There is an exchange of blessings; bread and wine. And yet, Melchizedek remains a mystery today. Mentioned twice in Scripture – today in the first reading from Hebrews – and in Psalm 110.
Let’s look at what Paul says in our first reading:
“… it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: You are my Son: this day I have begotten you; just as he says in another place, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
Melchizedek, you see, foreshadows Jesus – who is truly priest and king of all creation. Melchizedek’s leadership was a combination that was not the norm, based on a mysterious lineage to God, rather than an early lineage to an ancestor.
Similarly, Jesus did not declare any lineage or authority based on his earthly father, Joseph. He declared himself king of the Jews solely on his sonship to God the Father – His Father.
Melchizedek has a similar mysterious origin. Was he ordained by God? His name, itself, indicates “king of righteousness” … and nothing suggests otherwise.
The Church truly does not know. It is a mystery – not in the sense that it cannot be solved, but in the sense that there is something much deeper going on.
So let’s dig deeper.
At the time these words were written into the Book of Hebrews, there was a pressing issue of explaining exactly who Christ was and of what his ancestry consisted. Paul focuses on the history of how Israel had chosen its leaders in the past and how those leaders are brought to their positions by God and not by men.
Paul stresses that true leaders are called by God, not by men.
“Brothers and sisters: Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.
No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God,”
And so we have our priests and pastors today. Young and old … they’ve been raised in a culture that is unlike that of old. There might be many reasons by a young man – or an old man – might entertain the notion of becoming a priest of God. But only those who are truly called by God will be successful.
Men do not call, form and ordain priests.
That’s the job of God.
Melchizedek possessed his priesthood not by virtue of his earthly mother or father – his ancestral heritage – but a special relationship with God. He possessed his priesthood by nature, not an earthly appointment for a limited time.
Thus, his priesthood was “forever.”
So too, Jesus.
So too, your priest and pastor.
Jesus and the Church follows in the royal priestly line of Melchizedek.
Now you know why he is mentioned every Sunday.