The Body and Blood of Christ: 2019
Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 109; I Cor 11:23-26; Luke 9:11-17
Today’s readings take us on something of a magical mystery tour: three very different readings, all important, but not obviously connected with one another. We are taken back in time to the encounter between Abraham and Melchizedek; then forward to the Cenacle, the room of the Last Supper; finally we go back to the field where the five thousand were fed. What do we make of these readings, and how do we link them?
Let’s begin with Melchizedek. He is a somewhat shadowy figure who appears in three books of the Bible: the Book of Genesis, the Book of Psalms, and the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews. His meeting with, and blessing of, Abraham is his only appearance “in the flesh” as we might say. He appears, bringing bread and wine; he blesses Abraham (or Abram as he still was at this point); he receives a tithe of everything; then he disappears as suddenly as he came.
Who was he? He is described as both a king and a priest. Does that ring any bells? “Of course it does,” I hear you cry, “Jesus the Christ is both king and priest (and prophet as well). Furthermore,” you add, “the Messiah is described in today’s psalm as ‘a priest for ever, a priest like Melchizedek of old’.”
So Melchizedek foreshadows the priesthood of Jesus, as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is at pains to point out. How does Jesus exercise His priesthood? He does it by bringing His own self-sacrifice, says the writer, His own body and blood, into the presence of God.
There is yet another connection with Melchizedek. He brought bread and wine. Who else brought bread and wine? “Don’t ask silly questions” you say: “obviously Jesus, who changed them into His body and blood.” So Melchizedek connects, not only with the priesthood of Jesus, but also with the sacramental exercise of that priesthood, as the body and blood which Jesus offered in sacrifice are made present and offered under the appearances of bread and wine.
So here is our link with the Second Reading, which is Paul’s account of the institution of the Eucharist, the making present of Christ’s sacrifice for us, through the sacramental offering of His body and blood.
There is another point to note: at the moments of consecration, St. Paul, in what is assumed to be the first written, as distinct from oral, account of the institution of the Eucharist, reports Our Lord as saying, over both body and blood, “Do this as a memorial of me”. The people responsible for the current translation of the missal have been very naughty, and deserve to have their legs sharply slapped, for rendering this as “in memory of me” as if we were merely recalling a past event. The Jewish concept of memorial—anamnesis in Greek—is much richer than this, and means the making present here and now of a past event. So, in the Mass, we are not merely remembering the past: we are making the past present.
We have a link, then, joining First Reading, Psalm, and Second Reading. Where does the Gospel fit in? The feeding of the five thousand foreshadows the Messianic banquet described by the prophet Isaiah, when God’s people will feast with the Messiah in the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet it also foreshadows the miraculous feeding of God’s people with the Lord’s body and blood, a miracle more glorious than the feeding of the multitude on the Galilean hillside. The Eucharist is itself a foretaste of the heavenly Messianic banquet, and so the feeding of the five thousand is a foretaste of a foretaste.
Perhaps we should note one final point. Before multiplying the loaves and fishes, Jesus says to the apostles “Give them something to eat yourselves.” They cannot, until He intervenes, but His command may serve as a reminder that we, who are fed by Him with His body and blood, have a responsibility, with His help and by His grace, to feed others both materially and spiritually.