Homilies on the Book of Hebrews (Part 4). Melchizedek Moments and Burning Bushes.
Who is this Melchizedek guy? We know very little of him through what is recorded in Holy Scripture, but the Jewish targums [Aramaic translations and paraphrases of the Old Testament, as well as other writings, make it very clear that Jewish tradition identifies him as Noah’s firstborn son, Shem. Melchizedek is his throne name (just as John Paul II is the throne name of Karol Wojtyla).
Catholics find the roots of our priesthood in the tradition of Melchizedek as stated in the Catechism (CCC 1544). In Genesis 14, after Abram returns from a victorious military conquest, Melchizedek comes out of nowhere and offers a sacrifice of bread and wine:
“After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
What is key in this passage is that we don’t know where he comes from. In chapter 7, Hebrews says that “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.” With no mother or father, he is almost like an uncreated God. He and his priesthood are totally transcendent. Elsewhere in the New Testament, we see another reference to Melchizedek when Christ at the Last Supper, also broke and shared bread with his disciples and fulfills the prophecy of Ps 110:4, in that Christ would be a priest “after the order of Melchizedek”.
Are there Melchizedek moments today? Does this priest suddenly appear at key moments in our lives?
The number of years ago, when I was a young adult, a young lady by the name Lorraine shared her witness story. By that time Lorraine had been married to John for about 10 years and had three daughters.
When Lorraine was a teenager she went from one bad relationship to another. She also ended up engaging in numerous practices that got her in numerous scrapes with her parents. At one point she had had enough pain and decided to change her life. She began going to church and attending a Bible study. Eventually, she felt called to marriage and motherhood (As she said, I knew that God was NOT calling me to be a nun”). She was naturally concerned about the characteristics that her future husband would possess. So she took out a piece of paper and on the right side, she wrote the nonnegotiable characteristics that she wanted in a future husband. On the right side of the page, she wrote a number of characteristics that she desired but that were “negotiable” between her and God, as she said. She related, “I cut the paper in the shape of an egg and I folded it and put it in my Bible to see what God would hatch.”
At some point, she ended up meeting and marrying John. John played ice hockey, sometimes at four in the morning, sometimes at midnight. John ended up going bald by age 40. These were not characteristics on her “God request” sheet of paper. But John was a good man, a good father and a good provider and the marriage thrived.
One day, one of the girls was giving Lorraine a very difficult time. The daughter was mouthy and rude and Lorraine was struggling with her. John quietly came into the room, gave his wife a kiss and said, “Let me handle this.” As Lorraine left the room she heard John tell the daughter, “Look, you don’t talk to my wife that way. Nobody talks to my wife that way.” With that Lorraine crawled up on the couch and began to cry. The reason was that Lorraine finally realized that one of her deepest fears what is that John would eventually leave her. So many men had used her and thrown her away. Deep down she was always concerned that it could happen again. Hearing John address their daughter, she realized that John wasn’t going to let anybody or anything get in the way of their marriage – not even one of their children.
This was not one of the characteristics that she had put on ”God’s selection sheet.” It was the one characteristic that God knew that she needed. That why God gave John to her. It took God five years of dating and 10 years of marriage before he was able to reveal that to her.
It was a Melchizedek moment.
Have you had a Melchizedek moment? In my homily last week I introduced you to Ann Voskamp. Ann Voskamp is a farmer’s wife, the mother six children, a web blogger and the author of a New York Times best-selling book. Ann talks about flaming bushes – “this wondrously messy, everyday-holy life…. is about finding beauty and quiet, about slowing to see the sacred in the chaos.”
The flame in the bush. God has flaming bushes everywhere. Melchizedek moments.
In last Sundays reading, in the book of Hebrews, we read that Christ “Isn’t a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but one who has similarly been tested in every way. This week, the author of Hebrews makes the distinction between the priesthood of Aaron and the priesthood of Melchizedek. The priesthood of Aaron is noble, but it is incomplete and insufficient. The priesthood of Melchizedek is a transcendent priesthood, an eternal priesthood. It has no origins. It is the priesthood of burning bushes … full of grace. Because of this, we can constantly “approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find that grace for timely help.”
But there is a caveat to it. The caveat asked to do with the kerygma. The kerygma is the salvation story of Jesus Christ where, having lost a relationship with God, Jesus, the eternal high priests, reestablishes that relationship. This allows us the possibility of eternal life. But this is only for people who desire and intentionally seek out that personal relationship with Jesus Christ. These are the people who willingly desire to approach that throne of grace and mercy. These are the people looking for Melchizedek moment and flaming bushes.
Where are the flaming bushes in your life? When was the last time that you had Melchizedek moment? What is the grace that you so deeply desire from your Eternal High Priest as you approach the altar of grace and mercy in a few minutes?
Audio version of the homily is here: