One of the great sources of controversy in interfaith discussion is the concept of “they worship the same God we do.”
This, of course, can lead to many dangers regarding syncretism or believing “all religions are equal,” or else it can be understood in the way Chesterton, Tolkein, Lewis and Ratzinger understand it: that those religions worship the same God we do, which should lead them to be Christian, because their revelation points to the same God.
Well, Gen 14:18-20, read at mass today, tells the story of Abraham and Melchizedek.
Now, Melichizedek is a figure of much discussion, given the three references to him in Scripture. The rabbis debate how his priesthood relates to the Aaronic priesthood, while Christians debate how his identity relates to Christ. The rabbinical tradition and the Dead Sea Scrolls seem to equate him with the Messiah, and some rabbis even claim he was born of a virgin. Gnostics equate him with Christ.
Some have said he’s Methuselah; others say he’s Shem, son of Noah.
Whatever the case, Melchizedek’s priesthood prefigures Christ’s because both are priest-kings, both offer bread and wine, etc.
Now, at the base of a lot of these controversies is the priesthood of Melchizedek, during the time of Abraham, outside the Old Law. We’re used to thinking, after all, that the direct line of patriarchs from Adam to Noah to Abraham are the only ones who count.
Here’s the passage pertaining Melchizedek’s priesthood:
“being a priest of God Most High, he blessed Abram ” (Gen 14:18).
Now, here’s what strikes me about this particular passage today: we tend to emphasize the fact that Melchizedek is a priest, and question how he got to be one. Of course, the extrabiblical tradition and implication of Hebrews 7:3 imply that Melchizedek was always a priest, but that’s not what I’m focusing on here.
Instead of focusing on the fact that Melchizedek was a priest–there were lots of “priests” in those days–we should be focusing on the fact that Melchizedek of “God Most High,” or “Elohim.”
So, in other words, Abram went to Melchizedek, as opposed to other priests, because Melchizedek was actually a priest in the service of Elohim. Abraham was not the only worshipper of Elohim in the Near East at the time, and we know of course that all of Abraham’s descedants, not just those of Isaac, and not just the descedants of Jacob, worshipped Elohim to some degree. Sadly, Elohim was worshipped among other gods, but of course monotheism had not been formally commanded yet.
Even in the Hebrew tradition, the emphasis was on Elohim’s role as a household God: “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
So, it is possible, even among the pagans, to find people who are worshippers of Elohim. And if that was possible in the Near East, shouldn’t it also be possible among other languages, as well?
It is also interesting that, while the rabbinical tradition tries to explain how Melchizedek might not have been a “Gentile”, the priesthood of Melchizedek prefigures the Christian priesthood precisely by including the Gentiles.