Today's second reading, from Chapter 5 of the Epistle to the Hebrews, centers on the subject of Christ the High Priest.
It's story that appears in all three Synoptic Gospels. I'll use the version from Luke, Chapter 6, because it's the one I was reading when the idea occurred:
And it came to pass on the second first sabbath that, as he went through the corn fields, his disciples plucked the ears and did eat, rubbing them in their hands. And some of the Pharisees said to them: Why do you that which is not lawful on the sabbath days?Now the big point of this scene is Jesus declaring himself Lord of the Sabbath (for more on that, I recommend reading what Pope Benedict says on the subject in Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1). Corollary to that is the message that Jesus makes more explicitly in Mark, Chapter 7: Don't set your love of God at enmity with your love of neighbor. Or, as St. Escriva said: "Make sure your personal mortifications don't mortify others."
And Jesus answering them, said: Have you not read so much as this, what David did, when himself was hungry and they that were with him: how he went into the house of God and took and ate the bread of proposition and gave to them that were with him, which is not lawful to eat but only for the priests? And he said to them: The Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath. (Lk. 6: 1-5)
What I'm interested in here, though, is David doing something reserved to the priests. The incident to which Our Lord's referring appears in 1 Samuel (or 1 Kings, depending which version, yadda, yadda), Chapter 22. Now, David is in these straits because he's on the run from Saul, who knows he's going to lose his kingdom to David. (Remind you of Herod at all?) Why is God replacing Saul with David?
Because back in Chapter 14, Saul did something reserved to the priests. He offered a sacrifice with his own hands, instead of waiting for Samuel to come and do it.
So here comes David and eats the holy bread that's reserved for the priests. Why isn't this a deal-breaker? Because David doesn't barge in and say, "Give me those loves of proposition! I'm the Anointed, and I'm hungry!" Instead, he asks the high priest for whatever he can spare, "though it were but five loaves" (1 Sam. 21: 3).
Five loaves . . . why does that sound familiar?
Oh, well. Anyway, the point is that David doesn't take God's Law into his own hands. He asks and receives. The Son of David will take after him in this:
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant (Philippians 2: 6-7).In other words, Saul's great sin was in trying to take that which can only be given. Hence in today's reading from Hebrews, Paul* tells us, in regards to the high priesthood:
Neither doth any man take the honour to himself, but he that is called by God, as Aaron was. So Christ did not glorify himself, that he might be made a high priest: but he that said unto him: Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place: Thou art a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedech.
He goes on in Chapters 6 and 7 to explain the order of Melchisedech's priesthood, how his offering of bread and wine in Genesis 14 foretells a new priesthood that will supersede the Levitical priests of the Old Testament. So when Jesus uses this story to refute the Pharisees, He's not just arguing from legal precedents. He's showing us how David foreshadows Himself. Just as David was granted to do that which was reserved for the priests, the Son of David would usher in a new priesthood, according to the order of Melchisedech. How fitting, then, that David himself, who ate the holy bread, should also have written the Psalm prophesying the priesthood of his Divine Descendant.**
And the sacrifice of that priesthood, like Melchisedech's, would be under the species of bread and wine. That, of course, is where David's five loaves come in. For in prefigurement of that sacrifice, the Son of David would use five loaves to feed five thousand.
*Despite the militant agnosticism prevalent in contemporary scholarship, I subscribe to the tradition that ascribes authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews to St. Paul, and of the Gospels to the evangelists whose names they bear. Said authorship cannot be conclusively disproven, and I will maintain this stance until the competent authority in Rome charges me under obedience to do otherwise. So there.
**Yes, I know, David did not write all the Psalms, but we know he wrote this one. Christ Himself tells us he did, in Matthew 22: 43-45. So double there.