Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17
This “King Melchizedek of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham as he was returning from defeating the kings and blessed him”; and to him Abraham apportioned “one-tenth of everything.” His name, in the first place, means “king of righteousness”; next he is also king of Salem, that is, “king of peace.” Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.
It is even more obvious when another priest arises, resembling Melchizedek, one who has become a priest, not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested of him,
“You are a priest forever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.”
The Lord says to my lord,
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
The Lord sends out from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your foes.
Your people will offer themselves willingly
on the day you lead your forces
on the holy mountains.
From the womb of the morning,
like dew, your youth will come to you.
The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Jesus’s healing of the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath is an important moment in revealing his identity, and if anyone should have understood this it should have been the Pharisees. By healing the man, Jesus is “working” on the Sabbath; only work that was strictly necessary and the temple work of the priests was sanctioned to be performed on the Sabbath. Thus Jesus, by demonstrating that doing good and saving life surpasses observance of the Sabbath, and linking his work to the work of the priests, demonstrates his fulfillment of the law and establishment of the new covenant of salvation.
Paul, himself formerly a Pharisee, gets this and explains this in his letter to the Hebrews. He compares Jesus to the priest Melchizedek, who blessed the patriarch Abraham. In Jesus’s day, all priests were of the line of Aaron. Since Moses’s day, the priests duties included carrying the Ark of the Covenant (containing the law and the manna) and later, after the construction of the temple to house the Ark, service in the temple. Thus priests were inherently linked to the temple and the law, and limited to Aaron’s descendants. But Melchizedek’s priesthood predates Aaron, predates the law, and exists from the beginning of Aaron’s relationship with God which culminates in the first covenant. Jesus as high priest, therefore, is a high priest in similar substance to Melchizedek, as He is before Abraham, He is before the law, and He is the maker of the Old and the New Covenant. And the Pharisees, as studious elites and sort of priest wannabes, should have seen all these connections inherent in the simple act of Christ taking mercy on the man with the withered hand and healing him.
Yet their hearts are hardened, their minds are withered, and they wish to destroy him. We see similar hardheartedness in many today, and the desire to destroy the saving power of our gospel or reduce is to something “correct” or “safe”. Perhaps we have experienced hardheartedness in ourselves as well, in clinging to something that was not good for us that God wanted to remove and heal. Today, let’s repent of any hardheartedness in ourselves and pray for those hostile to Christ that, like St. Paul the Pharisee who became an apostle, they too might be healed and see our God for themselves.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, our redeemer, high priest, and lord of the sabbath, thank you for coming to save and heal us. I give you my areas of weakness and ask you to heal them, and to protect me from any hardheartedness that would blind me to Your saving power and love. Through your saving love and the witness of my life and the life of Your church, may all who doubt and are hostile to You have their eyes opened and their hearts touched to know and love You.