Last week we heard of the healing of blind Bartimaeus. Today’s reading is placed by all three synoptic gospel writers during Jesus’ days in Jerusalem after His triumphal entry 5 (Palm Sunday) and before His passion begins (Holy Thursday).
The scribes were the scholars and intellectuals of Judaism. They received the title “rabbi.” His scholarship was the knowledge of the Law, which he regarded as the sum of wisdom and the only true learning. His position in the Jewish community was a respected position of leadership. The scribe as such was not a member of any Jewish sect or party (Pharisee, Sadducee, Zealot, Essene), but in fact most scribes were Pharisees, adhering to a strict interpretation of the Law.
Jesus was a threat to their influence which is why most New Testament references show them hostile to Him. This story is unique in that it portrays a friendly, rather than a controversial, discussion between Jesus and a scribe. This scribe has been impressed with Jesus’ earlier reply (verses 18-27, where He answers the question “In the resurrection, whose wife will a woman who has had seven husbands be?” This scribe wants to learn more.
Life, for Moses, meant serving God and leading his people to the promised land. Here, with his characteristic humility and patience, he repeats the precepts and directives given him by God. He wants to engrave them on the minds and hearts of his people, to keep them loyal to the commitment made by their parents (he is now addressing a new generation of Israelites, all of those who would have been under the age of twenty when the exodus began). As a permanent reminder for future generations, when they cross the Jordan they must write the Law on stone (Deuteronomy 27:2-3), and from then on the Law is to be read out to the people every seven years (seven being the number which is representative of the covenant) to ensure that they obey it.
The Decalogue (the ten commandments, but literally in Hebrew, “the ten words”) have just been read and our 1st reading today is an explanation of the 1st commandment. In this reading we see the two basic principles in Deuteronomy:
1) Monotheism – Israel has to believe in the One True God.
2) It must love Him above all else.
Last week we heard Jesus called “A priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:6, Genesis 14:15, Psalm 110:4). As a means of introduction to today’s reading we will learn a little more about Melchizedek, Jesus’ comparison to him, and their relationship to the covenant. Hebrews 7:1-3 says “This ‘Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High,’ ‘met Abraham as he returned from his defeat of the kings’ and ‘blessed him.’ And Abraham apportioned to him ‘a tenth of everything’ [a tithe]. His name first means righteous king, and he was also ‘king of Salem,’ that is, king of peace. Without father, mother, or ancestry [this is technical priestly language. Levitical priests must prove their genealogy (Ezra 2:62-63; Nehemiah 7:64-65) (paternal for 10 generations and maternal for 4 generations with no unclean marriages (to non-Jews) and no illegitimacy)], without beginning of days or end of life [a Levitical priest began apprenticeship at age 25 and served as priest from age 30 to age 50 at which point the requirement was that he retire], thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.” Shem-Melchizedek is a priest prior to the golden calf and the institution of the Levitical priesthood. He does not have to prove his genealogy or serve only for a designated period of time.
Now, moving along to Hebrews 7:11-22: “If, then, perfection came through the levitical priesthood, on the basis of which the people received the law [the sacred author now shows the superiority of the priesthood of the order of Melchizedek to that of the Levitical priesthood], what need would there still have been for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not reckoned according to the order of Aaron? When there is a change of priesthood, there is necessarily a change of law as well [see Ezekiel 20:21-26 which describes the rise of the Levitical law and consequent change from the priesthood of the firstborn son to the Levitical priesthood]. Now he of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, of which no member ever officiated at the altar. It is clear that our Lord arose from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. It is even more obvious if another priest is raised up after the likeness of Melchizedek; who has become so, not by a law expressed in a commandment concerning physical descent but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. For it is testified: ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’ [Jesus has a genealogy (Matthew 1:1-16) but it does not support a Levitical priesthood. The priesthood has become as God originally intended, the priesthood of the firstborn.]. On the one hand, a former commandment [the Levitical laws, not the ten commandments] is annulled because of its weakness and uselessness, for the law brought nothing to perfection; on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. And to the degree that this happened not without the taking of an oath – for others became priests without an oath, but he with an oath, through the one who said to him: ‘The Lord has sworn, and he will not repent: ‘You are a priest forever’” [quoted from Psalm 110 where God is talking to a son of David, king of Salem] to that same degree has Jesus (also) become the guarantee [the guarantor-cosigner] of an (even) better covenant [Jesus is the new high priest and since a new priesthood requires a change in the law, the new covenant has come into being with the new priesthood of Jesus. This new covenant is better because it remains as long as the priesthood on which it is based remains and we have God’s word that it is forever. Jesus, the new high priest, guarantees the permanence of the New Covenant.].”