Offerings of Melchizedek foreshadow the Eucharist

in the beginning
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

After fighting a battle, what does a soldier do? Check back with the family at home? Get some R and R? Just chill out?

Or, maybe breathe a prayer of thanksgiving to God for still being alive? That appears to be the case in Sunday’s reading, Gn 14:18-20. In the aftermath of a battle, Melchizedek is offering a sacrifice. 

The reading identifies Melchizedek as the king of Salem. According to tradition, the word “Salem” corresponds to “Jerusalem.” In other words, it’s just another name for the city.

Another possibility, however, proposes that the word “salem” is another form of the Hebrew word for peace, “shalom.” Melchizedek, then, would be a king of peace, an ally with Abram, who is also present for the sacrifice. The two, along with some other kings, have joined forces in battle against Chedorlaomer and his allies. (These kings do not rule over vast swaths of territory. They operate more on the lines of a tribal chieftain.)

To celebrate their successful battle, Melchizedek offers this sacrifice of bread and wine in thanksgiving for their victory. He says, “Blessed be God Most High, who delivered your foes into your hand.”

The offerings of bread and wine immediately resonate with us as Catholics. After all, we present bread and wine to God, to become the body and blood of Christ. We offer them to God in a sacrifice of praise in the Eucharist.

Appropriately, the word “Eucharist” means “sacrifice” in Greek. We are expressing our gratitude to God for all that we have received, especially for the gift of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 

In offering thanks to God, we follow the example of Jesus Christ himself, who “on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:23b-24).

It’s amazing! Even though Jesus realized that his friends would abandon him and that he would soon die, he still found it in himself to give thanks to God. 

That is why we assure God at the beginning of the eucharistic prayer of the Mass: “We do well, always and everywhere, to give you thanks.”

On this solemnity of Corpus Christi, we do well to remember that whenever we celebrate the Eucharist, we join our sacrifice of thanksgiving to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

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