Who has ever been at Mass and suddenly heard the name of a completely unknown character in one of the readings?
This Sunday might be one of those days, and since the temptation to pull out the phone in the middle of Mass and Google the name might just get a little too overwhelming for some, I decided to spare you the struggle by dedicating a few lines to the character of Melchizedek. He appears only twice in the Old Testament: in Chapter 14 of Genesis, and once more in Psalm 110. Despite his being such an obscure individual, the striking similarities between him and Jesus have fed Christian imagination from the very early days.
Melchizedek was King and Priest of Salem, a place that Psalm 76 identifies as Jerusalem. Jesus, too, is King and Priest of the Heavenly Jerusalem. His name can also mean ‘King of justice’ and ‘King of peace’, but is there any king who has brought to the world justice and peace like Jesus has? Melchizedek was believed to be “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life” (Heb 7:3), and so does Christ exist from before all ages. But also, having no father and mother, and therefore being unable to trace his ancestry to the tribe of Levi--from which all priests must come--Melchizedek’s priesthood had to be of a completely new kind, just like Jesus’ priesthood is of a new kind. And if that was not enough, Melchizedek appears offering unusual sacrifices of bread and wine, which Jesus also used when he instituted the Eucharist.
Who exactly was this figure of the Old Testament? This is a question that still remains open. Some say he was a Canaanite priest, others believe he was Shem, the firstborn son of Noah. What all Christian theologians agree on, however, is that he is a figure that points towards Christ and speaks of God’s intention to save the whole of humanity.
Fr Daniel Herrero Peña