Corpus Christi celebrations in Rome in 2018. CNS photo/Elvir Tabakovic

God's Word on Sunday: Blessings flow through many channels

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  • June 14, 2019

Body and Blood of Christ, June 23 (Year C) Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17

There is always more than meets the eye in the Scriptures and much that begs for elaboration and explanation. 

Returning from a skirmish with enemy kings, Abram (Abraham) met with Melchizedek from the city of Salem, the name for Jerusalem before its conquest by King David. At this point in history, Salem was not even an Israelite city but Canaanite. Melchizedek — which means “king of righteousness” or “my king is righteousness” — was a priest of a Canaanite deity named El ’Elyon (Most High god). 

It is surprising that Abram showed deference and respect to a priest of a Canaanite god and in a Canaanite city. At this point, Judaism had barely begun; no real covenant had been established and no law given. The temple was centuries in the future. 

Abram gave him a tenth of the booty he had won on the battlefield. In return, Melchizedek blessed both Abram and the Most High God. Melchizedek almost disappeared from history at this point, making only a brief appearance in Psalm 110 and in some of the extra-biblical literature. 

The Letter to the Hebrews picked up the figure of Melchizedek once again. The author played on the meaning of Melchizedek’s name — “king” and “righteousness” — as well as a tradition that he was without birth or death. That was enough to view him as the foreshadowing of Jesus. 

As in Psalm 110, the name was linked with an eternal priesthood. We have no idea who this shadowy figure was and his role in salvation history. As they say, “there is a story there,” but we are not in the loop. 

God works in many ways and places, utilizing a wide range of individuals, some of whom might surprise and even shock us. We cannot confine God within walls of our own making. God’s blessings reach their destination through many channels. Some of the Church Fathers were on to this. They held that Christ — the Logos — was present in some form in every time and place. And if Christ is the Lord of history, this makes perfect sense.

The nourishing and sustaining qualities of God are often described in Scripture in terms of food and drink. Some even hold that the Melchizedek story in Genesis foreshadows the Eucharist, but that is probably pressing the story beyond its limit. What is clear, however, is the continuing blessing and sustaining presence of God. 

In 1 Corinthians, written a generation before any of the Gospels, Paul reports the words of Jesus at the last supper as He established a lasting remembrance of His life, death and resurrection. In Paul’s letters, the Eucharist is far more than a personal devotion. God blesses the encounter and is present in the assembled community, but God also calls for fidelity, commitment and discipleship. It is a public declaration of the intent to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

The story of the miraculous feeding echoes the journey of the Israelites through the desert in Exodus and Numbers. During that journey, the people continually panicked at what they perceived to be a lack of food and water. 

God came through for them repeatedly and provided for their needs, but for them it was never enough. The next round of complaints and acts of infidelity were never far off. Their fear and doubt almost always triumphed over God’s gracious care for them. 

The miraculous feeding in the Gospels is a replay of the desert experience. God demonstrated in dramatic terms that God was still the sustainer and provider and had not left their side. 

When Jesus told the apostles to give the people something to eat, there was a moment of panic. We have so little; they are so many. Jesus accepted what was at hand with gratitude and blessed it. There was more than enough for everyone, with some left over. 

The perception of scarcity is behind much of our fear and violence. We are convinced that there is not enough food, water, resources, money, living space or whatever. Even God can be treated as a scarce resource, leading us to hoard and control access to God. 

The message of Jesus is clear: When we live in Christ’s body, leaving behind our selfishness, we are sustained and nourished. And there is enough God for everyone — no need to build fences.

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