Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17
Barack Obama carries out his first full day of work as the President of the U.S. today. His presidency represents a change in more than the usual sense of the term, when we speak of the change of watch that presidential succession entails. For he is the first African-American to hold this office. Quite a change!
And we expect corresponding changes from him in various areas of U.S. life, of which he allegedly said the very first thing to which he would attend, upon assuming the presidency, would be: the sick economy, the conduct of our two wars, the practice of torture and extradition, the reduction of taxes for the middle class, extended unemployment benefits, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc., etc.
The liturgical readings from the bible today likewise address change, leading us to ask whether the changes they describe portend anything above and beyond the obviously religious tenor we observe about them. Hebrews looks to the ancient priest Melchizedec as a type or model of the priesthood Jesus represents: a new kind of priesthood, that is a change from the Aaronic priesthood that prevailed within Judaism up to that point in time: "…another priest raised up after the likeness of Melchizedec,…" (Heb 7.15). And Mark describes an incident that Jesus instigated in the synagogue, on the Sabbath, healing the withered hand of a man present there. In doing so, He changed the terms of the event from a Sabbath desecration to a: "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil…?" (Mk 3.4)
These "terms of engagement" associated with Jesus: are they "only" religious, or do they suggest that any significant changes occurring in any venue must have a religious base? We memorialize the young girl Agnes today: was not her death, even though religiously motivated, capable of shaking the foundations of the Roman Empire? And are not the religious changes for which we pray during this octave of prayer for church unity capable of moving beyond the churches, and reaching farther, like the priesthood of Jesus, the keeping of the Sabbath, and the death of Agnes, right up to the desk of the President?
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.