Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Let us not forget to pray for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and for the victims of the 9-11 attacks whose anniversary we observe today.

“The Lord said to my Lord:  «Sit thou at my right hand till I make thine enemies thy footstool.»”[1]

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

    In today’s Gospel, as in many others, we see the Pharisees attempting to challenge our Lord, and to get Him to say something to violate the precepts of the Jewish religion.  They were, of course, attempting to get Him to pick one of the Commandments and pronounce it more important than the others.  If, for example, He had said that the Commandment “Thou shalt not kill” was the most important, they would have had a case against Him for belittling the seriousness of violating the other Commandments.  But instead of picking one out of the Ten, our Lord instead reminded them of the more general instruction God had given in the Old Testament.

    The commandment to love God with all of the power at our command is found, exactly as Jesus quoted, it in the book of Deuteronomy.[2]  The commandment to love our neighbors is a gloss (a summary) of God’s words in the book of Leviticus.[3]  Our Lord simply reminded the Pharisees of what they already should have known—nothing new, and no detraction from any of the enumerated Commandments.  If people would simply love God and love man for the sake of God, all of our responsibilities would just naturally fall into place.

    What follows is particularly interesting.  At one and the same time, our Lord both demonstrates the inability of the Pharisees to interpret the Scriptures. and gently asserts His claim to be the Christ.  Without a doubt, the Pharisees knew immediately that He was quoting Psalm 109:  “The Lord said to my Lord:  «Sit thou at my right hand till I make thine enemies thy footstool.»”  The Psalms of King David were second nature to the Jews, learned literally from the cradle on.  And this particular Psalm was universally accepted as being written about Messiah; the “anointed one,” or “the Christ” of the Lord.

    Jesus pointed out that even though the Christ was to be a lineal descendent of King David, He would be over and above David, so that David would speak of Him as “Lord,” the “King of Kings.”  But even that was not the extent of the power of the Christ.   We read further in the Psalm: “The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent: Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech.”[4]  We don’t know whether or not the Pharisees understood the implication of that, as we understand it with hindsight.  Following David, the Kings of Judah were his sons and grandsons and so on—the Messiah was to come from the house of David.

    But the Psalm, virtually in the same breath, was saying that the Christ would also be a “priest forever.”  On some level that appeared to be a contradiction, for while the kings came from the tribe of David, the priests all came from the tribe of Levi, all of them being the sons and grandsons of Aaron (the brother of Moses).  And this “order of Melchisedech” referred very specifically to the priest and king who offered sacrifice for none other than Abraham, the father of the entire Jewish nation—a priest who preceded Aaron and his sons by at least five hundred years—a priest whom the venerable Abraham treated with the utmost respect, assisting as he offered sacrifice, receiving his blessing, and giving him a tenth of all that he possessed.[5]

    Certainly, it was lost on the Pharisees that the sacrifice Melchisedech offered in the presence of Abraham was quite unlike the bloody animal sacrifices offered by the sons of Aaron.  Only with our hind-sight do we understand the significance of what was written in Genesis about Melchisedech, that “he brought out bread and wine, for he was a priest of the most high God.”  The Psalm was pointing not only to the idea that the Christ would be a priest, but to the fact that He would be a priest who offered the “clean oblation” described by the prophet Malachi, no longer leaving God’s sanctuary with the smell of blood and burning flesh.[6]

    The Psalm contains another verse that was probably beyond the understanding of the Pharisees:  “in the brightness of the saints: from the womb before the day star I have begotten thee.”[7]  The Lord God is speaking to the Lord Christ, claiming paternity.  He is speaking of begetting the Christ from all eternity, even before the “day star”; even before the “light bringer”—the Christ was begotten before time began, before even the angels were created.  But in the same phrase the Lord God speaks of the “womb”—which can be none other then the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary who gave birth to the Christ of the Lord after being overshadowed by the Holy Ghost.

    Although we can debate whether or not the Pharisees understood all of the ways in which Psalm 109 applied to our Lord, one thing is certain:  “From that day forward no one dared to ask Him any more questions.”[8]  The time was growing short, in which Jesus would prove definitively that He was the Christ by fulfilling the words of the prophets as He laid down His life for His people and for the forgiveness of their sins.  There is no better example that we could have for fulfilling the two great Commandments of the Law:  the love of God with the entirety of heart, soul, and mind;  and the love of neighbor for the love of God.  There is no greater love than the Christ of the Lord, who has laid down His life for the world.


[1]   Psalm cix: 1.  Quoted in the Gospel of the day, Matthew xxii: 34-46.

[2]   Deuteronomy vi: 5.

[3]   Leviticus xix: 15-18.

[4]   Psalm cix: 4

[5]   Genesis xiv: 18-20.

[6]   Malachi i: 11.

[7]   Psalm cix: 3.

[8]   Matthew xxii: 46.


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