The author of the Letter to the Hebrews describes Melchizedek as “without father, mother, or ancestry, without beginning of days or end of life.” We are not meant to take this literally. Like every human being before him and after him, he was subject to the laws of human nature. The author is commenting upon the fact that Melchizedek appears as an important person in the Book of Genesis and disappears just as quickly. However, this single incident in the life of the patriarch of Abraham provides us with a “type” or “personality” to whom Jesus can be compared.
Kings and priests in the Hebrew Scriptures were assigned these roles by virtue of their birth. Presumably, Melchizedek’s father was also a king and a priest. However, because his genealogy is completely unknown, we have no way to prove this fact. So the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, in trying to explain how Jesus came to be called a high priest, compares him to Melchizedek. Jesus was not born into the priesthood. He took on the role by virtue of his sacrifice on the cross.
Consequently, Melchizedek provides insight into the priesthood of Jesus. Melchizedek shows us five qualities that are embodied in Jesus the high priest. First, his is a priesthood of righteousness or of right relationship. Melchizedek blesses Abraham upon meeting him. Blessings in Jewish culture are bestowed by the greater to the lesser person. By blessing Abraham, Melchizedek signifies the right relationship. Second, it is a priesthood of peace as Melchizedek offered Abraham and his army bread and wine in order to preserve peace. Third, it is a royal priesthood. Genesis recounts that Melchizedek was the king as well as a priest. Fourth, as we noted previously, this priesthood is personal rather than inherited. Finally, it is eternal, a fact that can be gleaned from the fact that there is no record of Melchizedek’s birth or his death. All of these characteristics, set out in the person of Melchizedek, define the priesthood of Jesus.
By virtue of our Baptism, we all participate in that priesthood. Accordingly, these five qualities are reflected in our lives as well. We make every effort to maintain our right relationship with Jesus, we endeavor to live in peace, we are anointed with chrism at our Baptism and can claim a royal identity, and we are adopted children of a personal God. Finally, we will live forever with our gracious God in heaven.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator