Commentary on the Gospel of
Today’s readings take us back to the time of Abraham and the mysterious figure, Melchizedek. Genesis 14 provides a detailed account that is helpful to recall.
Enemies had ransacked the city, carrying away goods and people, including Abraham’s nephew Lot. Abraham and his men rode to the rescue, vanquishing the captors and replevining the stolen goods. Melchizedek, a king and priest, met Abraham on his way home. Abraham offered him a tenth of the goods, a plausible sign of honoring him. Melchizedek also blessed Abraham, a plausible sign of Melchizedek’s authority and his priestly role. The scriptures record neither ancestry nor progeny for Melchizedek. Unlike other kings, he is a king of peace, apparently without an army or an heir to succeed him.
In reading from Hebrews, Saint Paul explains how our Lord shares in the likeness of Melchizedek as a king of peace who endures forever, having neither beginning nor end. His eternal priesthood is expressed “by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed” – an even more obvious sign.
Today’s psalm likewise refers to Melchizedek’s eternal priesthood and kingship. But surprisingly, that kingly ruling occurs “in the midst of your enemies” rather than without them. It seems that patience is required before enemies are subjected (turned into a “footstool”). This psalm reflects prayer about the here and now, as well as what is not yet.
The faithful recognized Melchizedek as one of the signs God leaves for us. He remains shrouded in mystery, which our Lord revealed with greater clarity. We cannot directly perceive the mind of God, but these signs allow us to know that God is at work. As these works unfold, we are asked to watch and pray patiently. God is good; goodness is coming; wait and see. It is hard to be patient. And not everyone is open to God’s signs or even His goodness.
Today’s Gospel presents the sign of miraculous restoration of a withered hand. I broke my wrist a few years ago. Without the skilled work of an orthopedic surgeon followed by equally significant care from a physical therapist, my hand would also be withered. Thanks be to God that I can work today with a strong and sound hand. How marvelous it must have been for this man to be whole again!
Before healing this man, Jesus posed a simple question: “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” A simple “yes” would have done nicely. Instead, he got icy silence. Perhaps they did not like these choices. Would they prefer that Jesus did nothing instead?
Jesus was angered and aggrieved by their response. But rather than smiting them (or even giving a strong lecture), he gave them an unmistakable sign. Healing and restoration did not produce repentence; instead, they chose to hatch a plot to kill Jesus. Query whether they reflected on the implications of Jesus’ question, perhaps reordering it to ask: “Is it lawful to do evil on the sabbath rather than to do good, to destroy life rather than to save it?”
Signs can give us useful information, but so can our responses to them. If we are open to repentance, we can change our ways before we reach a bad end. But if we close our eyes to them, woe unto us. God has not left himself without witnesses. What is our response?
Lord, help us to recognize signs in our midst that reveal your mind and your work. When we stray, help us find our way back to you. When we experience anger and grief, help us to respond with signs of your love, helping, restoring, and healing. Give us faith, hope, and charity we need to persevere until that day when your Kingdom comes in fullness. Thanks be to God.