The First Reading today shows us a foreshadowing of the gift we are celebrating today. Abram, who we know today as Abraham, our father in faith, had just rescued his nephew Lot from kings who had raided where he was living and captured him. Melchizedek was a mysterious figure in the Old Testament: he almost came out of nowhere to bless Abram for the rescue, and Abram paid a special tribute to Melchizedek for the blessing. A priest brings forth bread and wine and a blessing, and Abram gives him a tribute…Does this sound familiar? Does it remind you of anything you do on Sundays? I’m not referring to the collection plate.
In the letter to the Hebrews we see the connection between Melchizedek and Christ: Christ is that priest who brings bread and wine, but above all a blessing, a transforming one or, as the theologians say and some zealous catechists, a transubstantiating one: through Christ’s blessing that bread and wine become him: his body and blood, soul and divinity: the Eucharist.
In Abram’s case this blessing was not just for him, but for his descendants, and in the Second Reading today, Paul tells the Corinthians that he is just a bearer of the blessing too. Paul says, “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,” and then he recalls the words priests says every time Mass is celebrated over the bread and wine so that they become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the death of Jesus until he comes, as St. Paul tells the Corinthians, and, as we pray in Mass, until he comes in glory. Every celebration of the Eucharist is a sacrifice. We offer up the sacrifice of the Son of God.
We proclaim Jesus’ death by Holy Communion because we are eating the sacrifice. Christ is not just the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, as we prayed in the Psalm today: he is the sacrifice as well. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews explains why with Christ’s sacrifice of himself the Old Testament priesthood is no longer needed. Christ is carrying out the real priesthood in Heaven: “For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:24-26).
How does that priesthood and sacrifice reach us? Every Mass, every Holy Communion. Every time we celebrated the Eucharist we present to God the sacrifice of his Son. Christ’s priesthood is made present through his priest, and the priest is the instrument Jesus uses to make bread and wine become Jesus’ body and blood offered in sacrifice for the whole world. We partake of that sacrifice for our world: my life, my family, my friends.
Jesus has given us our priest, his blessing, the bread and wine, our very selves, created by God, redeemed by God in Christ. Most importantly, he has given us his very self, under the appearance of bread and wine. What can we give him in return? Every Mass we bring up the gifts, gifts that God has given us, a blessing is said over them, and a few moments later, those gifts through the priest’s words and God’s power become God himself.
Jesus in the Gospel today teaches us to bring everything to Him for His blessing:
- Our sicknesses, spiritual and physical, so he can bless us with healing, spiritual or physical, as he sees best for our souls.
- Our doubts and questions, so that he can teach us about the Kingdom of God.
- Our problems–so many people, so late, so little food, what do we do?’–so that he can suggest a solution.
- Our contribution and effort, big or small, toward solving that problem, even if it seems against all odds: a few loaves and fish, a lot of needy people, so that he can bless our efforts and make them fruitful. Our time, talent, and treasure.
- Our thanks for his blessings: twelve wicker baskets full of them.
In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches us that he never intended for us to go it alone. When he ascended into Heaven, he promised he would be with is until the end of the age. He remains with us through the Eucharist. He didn’t tell the disciples, “send them off, tell them to read a book, go see a doctor, apologize that the catering was not arranged.” They came to Christ and received a blessing that transformed them and others. If you don’t see the blessings in your life, ask Jesus to show you. He is in every tabernacle so that you can approach him and ask him for guidance, healing, strength, direction. He comes into your heart every time you receive Holy Communion worthily.
He may ask something of you that makes no sense, that is hard to understand, that seems too much for your strength, beyond your means, but he will bless it. He will transform it into twelve wicker baskets full of blessings. They may not be the blessings you expected—the disciples didn’t expect at the end of the day that they would have twelve baskets full of food and thousands of people fed—but Jesus will help you to count your blessings. Let’s offer Jesus our whole life so that he can bless it and transform it.
Readings: Genesis 14:18–20; Psalm 110:1–4; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; Luke 9:11b–17. See also Solemnity of Corpus Christi, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 2nd Week of Easter, Friday, 1st Week of Advent, Wednesday, and Tuesday after Epiphany.