1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Luke 9:11b-17 [169C]
Today we celebrate the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Each of the readings speaks in various ways about a sacred meal. It is in coming together and sharing a meal as people of faith where we encounter Christ.
The first reading is only a few verses from Genesis 14. Grateful for Abram’s success in battle against their common foes, Melchizedek, king of Salem, offered Abram bread and wine and a blessing. In offering a meal and his blessing, the author of Genesis describes Melchizedek as “a priest of God Most High.” In other words, even though he was a foreign king, he was also a priest of the God who Abram worshipped. This encounter between Abram and Melchizedek is the Bible’s first meal, and elements of bread and wine are combined with a blessing, with humans offering praise and thanksgiving to God. With Melchizedek offering Abram a meal and a blessing, and Abram offering Melchizedek “a tenth of everything,” a covenant was formed between Abram and Melchizedek that would be remembered throughout salvation history.
Theologically, it is notable that in the Old Testament Genesis mentions Melchizedek’s priesthood before the giving of the law and the establishment of the Levitical priesthood in Exodus. In the New Testament’s Book of Hebrews, because Melchizedek’s priesthood is prior to the Levitical priests, it is superior (see, for example, Heb 5:1-10). In this way, Hebrews speaks of the supremacy of Jesus’ priesthood. The other Old Testament reference to Melchizedek occurs in Psalm 110, where God appoints David as both king to rule over the enemies of Israel and as priest (“You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek,” v. 4). The Old Testament offers no further information about this mysterious figure known to us by the name of Melchizedek.
We hear about another holy meal in the second reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Once again the elements of bread and wine are combined with a blessing, but here it is Jesus who speaks of the bread and wine as his body and blood being broken and poured out as the “new covenant.” In writing about this final meal between Jesus and his apostles, Paul tells the Corinthian Christians of a tradition he “received” about the words that Jesus spoke at his Last Supper. Many scholars date the writing of this letter to the city of Corinth to the spring of AD 55. If this is accurate, then the writing of 1 Corinthians is within twenty years of Jesus’ Last Supper, making 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 the earliest witness in the New Testament to the words of Jesus spoken in this sacred meal.
The Gospel reading from Luke is the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand through the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. This remarkable event holds the distinction within the Gospel tradition of being the only miracle of Jesus that all four Evangelists preserved in their Gospels (see also Mt 14:13-21; Mk 6:34-44; 8:1-10; Jn 6:1-15). The fourfold action with the bread and fishes—the taking, blessing, breaking, and giving—has clear eucharistic overtones and signals early on in Jesus’ ministry the importance of a holy meal for Christians. As Catholics, we celebrate the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ in our sacrament of the Eucharist. Whenever we partake in Eucharist, we partake in a sacred meal that acknowledges the body and blood of Christ as central to our salvation.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz