Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 11th: Genesis 14:17-24; Psalm 27; and Philippians 3:17-20. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
In today’s first selection, we encounter the enigmatic figure of Melchizedek, a name which means the righteous or just king. He appears out of nowhere and disappears from the biblical text just as quickly. For those who read the Bible through a literal lens, since there is no mention of his beginning or end, they argue that Melchizedek must, therefore, have no beginning or end. If it is not written, it is not so. I don’t put stock in such things.
However, in the story, Melchizedek is the king of Salem, which is most likely the city eventually called Jerusalem. After Abram rescues his nephew Lot from invaders and is returning to Hebron, he is met by Melchizedek. With another ambiguous reference, the Bible calls Melchizedek a “priest of God Most High.” As such, Melchizedek blesses Abram in the name of this God, “God Most High.” What is interesting at this point is that Abram acknowledges the blessing and also the superiority of Melchizedek because Abram offers a tithe to this monarch/priest for the blessing he has offered.
Melchizedek appears and disappears in mysterious fashion and this has led to all kinds of unnecessary speculation, and his unexpected blessing and reward are equally peculiar. When Abram offers a tithe to Melchizedek, this implies an indebtedness to him, and Abram is the father of the people of Israel. This is an unexpected message in the sacred literature of Israel.
Since there is so much speculation associated with Melchizedek, following suit, let me mention that Salem contains a linguistic reference to peace. Wouldn’t it be a welcome message that the profits of war are offered in homage to the righteous leader of the place of peace, that war is inferior to peace?
Paul writes in today’s passage, “For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” It is a hard lesson to grasp, especially at a time when we must watch war crimes in real-time, that Jesus’ cross is the unequivocal testimony of non-violence. Jesus offers no physical resistance to the violence of the cross. He actually reprimands an unnamed follower who has resorted to violence, saying, “‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?’” (Matthew 26:52-53) With but one armed follower Jesus does not resign Himself to non-violence because there is no alternative. Jesus believes that with but a request God in heaven will avenge this coming evil. Jesus rejects violence intrinsically. Jesus is thoroughly non-violent, and the scandal of the cross is Jesus’ most emphatic proof of this.
On this second Lenten Friday, these Fridays being especially forceful reminders of Good Friday, we must try to deal with the reality of the cross’ revelation that our Saviour, like the timeless Melchizedek, is the king of righteousness who rules over the land of peace, and that we, like the people of God anticipated in the person of Abram, must pay our respects even in times of war to the greater truth that is peace, that is the greater truth of “the cross of Christ.”
I wish we did not have to deal with the savagery that is taking place in Ukraine at present, but we must. However, may that savagery teach us to not glorify war and to instead recognize it as the source of almost unimaginable atrocities. May this increasing awareness among disparate peoples around the globe give peace a fighting chance, and may this help us to not “live as enemies of the cross of Christ.”
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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