16th-century Juan de Juanes painting of the last supper. Public Domain

With God, there’s more than enough for all

  • May 20, 2016

Body and Blood of Christ (Year C) May 29 (Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 10; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17)

God has always been at work in the most unlikely places and individuals. The strange story of Abram (Abraham before his name change) receiving a blessing from King Melchizedek of Salem stirs up a lot of questions.

Salem was Jerusalem, and at this point in history, Judaism did not exist and Jerusalem was not an Israelite city. A people known as the Jebusites lived there. The mysterious King Melchizedek was a non-Jewish king in a city that would not become the Jerusalem of King David for several hundred years.

Surprisingly, he was called a “priest of God Most High.” This particular way of describing God was common among the Canaanite tribes dwelling in the area at the time, but it was later incorporated into the Old Testament. It is interesting that Melchizedek — along with the author of Genesis — does not see any real conflict between God Most High of the Canaanites and the later God of Israel. This God was maker of Heaven and Earth, as well as the deliverer of Abram’s enemies into his hands.

Melchizedek, Abram, God Most High and the God of Israel all seem to have been working together for the same goal. It should make us pause and reflect on our own times, when religions, theologies and ideologies of all sorts divide people and make them enemies. The bread and wine that Abram received from Melchizedek were regarded as the staples of life, forming the basis of nearly every religious feast and celebration — and they were received from someone “outside the group.” God is at work everywhere; anyone can be an instrument of God. Avoiding labels and listening for the message will perhaps open doors that we believed to be closed. Eventually, early Christian tradition would transform Melchizedek into a transcendental figure without human origins or parentage. Along with his priesthood, he was seen as a prefiguring of Christ and His eternal high priesthood. There is as deep river that flows from God through all human hearts that is manifested in diverse settings. It is usually only perceived by those inclined to search for it. Entering that river carries us onward to the Source of all.

Paul’s account of the Last Supper predates all four of the Gospels by a generation. It is the earliest reference to the Eucharist. On the surface, it is simple and spare; but on a deeper level it speaks of covenant, redemption and discipleship. The command was to “do this in remembrance of me.” This was very much in line with the Jewish tradition of the zikaron or remembrance of God’s great deeds, such as Passover. When one remembered, it was more than calling to mind. It was reliving or re-experiencing the great event in Israel’s salvation history. In the Eucharist, believers remember and relive the death of Jesus on the cross, with focus on the love and self-sacrifice that motivated Him. It is a reminder to continue the Lord’s work, and it should always lead to greater love and greater generosity.

Jesus and the disciples were in a tight predicament. They were in a deserted and desolate place, with no food and a hungry crowd to feed. The disciples were all for disbursing the crowd and letting them fend for themselves. But Jesus challenged them by ordering them to feed the crowd. Puzzlement reigned as they wondered where they could possibly find the huge amount of food that would be required. They focused on how little they had: five loaves and two fish. This is a human reaction — focus on lack and let fear take hold. Jesus took their meagre rations, blessed and broke them, and distributed the portions to the crowd. There was enough for all with plenty left over. As in the exodus journey, God was with them and fed them in the wilderness.

Trust and love enable what we call miracles. The competition for basic needs and resources is a serious problem in our world. It leads to division, resentment, competition and injustice of all sorts. Blessing what we have with gratitude and sharing it would remind us of the infinite generosity of God and that there is more than enough for all. Lack and injustice are human creations, but they dissolve when we live according to the pattern of Jesus.