Tag Archives: Richard Rohr

Geeking Out on the Great Story

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The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

Psalm 110:4 (NIV)

I confess. I am a Tolkien nerd. I have been most of my life. Before the advent of cell phones I would typically read The Lord of the Rings once a year. Now, I have it on audiobook and will often listen to it when I can’t sleep. Once I got a text from my daughter asking me, “Do you know the name of Theoden’s horse?”

I immediately replied. “Of course. Snowmane.”

She then texted. “Thanks. Playing pub trivia and I knew you’d know.”

But I couldn’t let it go at that. I then added:

“Gandalf’s horse is Shadowfax.
Sam’s pony is Bill.
Glorfindel’s horse is Asfaloth.
Aragorn’s horse is Hasufel.
Legolas’ horse is Arod.”

Okay. I was showing off and geeking out. Maybe I have a problem.

Geeking out came to mind as I read today’s chapter, Psalm 110, because it contains a geeky reference in the Great Story that I find even life-long followers of Jesus to be largely unaware. It is the mysterious character of Melchizedek.

Melchizedek makes his appearance towards the very beginning of the Great Story when God calls Abraham:

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Creator of heaven and earth.
And praise be to God Most High,
    who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.


Genesis 14:17-20 (NIV)

That’s it. That’s the only reference to him and that’s all we know about him. And this is where the mystery begins. In the Great Story Abram is the first of the Hebrew “patriarchs.” At this point in the story, there are no Ten Commandments, no system of worship (which came through Moses centuries later), no record of any kind of formal “priesthood.” So, who is Melchizedek? Where did he come from? How did he become “priest of God Most High” and what exactly did that mean?

We. Don’t. Know.

So, why is he important?

In the Hebrew system of worship that God prescribed through Moses, the “priesthood” was relegated to Aaron and his descendants. If you weren’t in the line of Aaron then you couldn’t be a priest. When the law and sacrificial system was established through Moses the Hebrews had no “king.” It would be centuries before they established a monarchy. When they did, the line of King David was established as the royal line through which the Messiah would come. So, if the Messiah was to be both King of Kings (from the royal line of David) and eternal High Priest (and only descendants of Aaron could be priests) how is that possible?

David wrote the coronation song, Psalm 110, that prophetically provided the answer. Some scholars say that Psalm 110 is the most directly prophetic of all the psalms, but that isn’t easily understood by the casual reader. David references the mysterious priesthood before Moses and before Aaron. He connects the Messiah with the shadowy figure of Melchizedek, “priest of God Most High,” who “brought out bread and wine (sound familiar?). The early followers of Jesus saw it and the author of the New Testament book of Hebrews (also a mystery) fleshed it out. The priesthood and sacrificial system of Aaron was a temporary spiritual band-aid and living metaphor of what was to come. The ultimate, once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus was sourced in an eternal priesthood that was older, deeper, and (from a human perspective) infinitely mysterious.

The author of Hebrews writes:

“Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of the Highest God. He met Abraham, who was returning from “the royal massacre,” and gave him his blessing. Abraham in turn gave him a tenth of the spoils. “Melchizedek” means “King of Righteousness.” “Salem” means “Peace.” So, he is also “King of Peace.” Melchizedek towers out of the past—without record of family ties, no account of beginning or end. In this way he is like the Son of God, one huge priestly presence dominating the landscape always.”
Hebrews 7:1-3 (MSG)

In the quiet this morning I feel like I’m geeking out on the Great Story like I geek out on The Lord of the Rings so forgive me if this post leaves you rolling your eyes and/or scratching your head.

A faith journey isn’t about reason or it wouldn’t be faith. In the mystery of Melchizedek, I’m reminded that faith requires of me the humility to accept that there are truths that lie in mystery. They are deeper, older, and unfathomable this side of eternity. Once again, I am grateful to Richard Rohr for introducing me to the concept that mystery isn’t something that we can’t understand but something we endlessly understand. The further I get in my spiritual journey, the more I have come to embrace and enjoy the mystery.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Mysteries Within Mysteries

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 5:8-10 (NIV)

The further I have progressed on this life journey the more I have come to understand that I must embrace mystery if I am going to progress spiritually in certain places. This flies in the face of a system of reason in which I was raised and educated. Our culture is one that places what I have come to understand as an undue premium on knowing. Theories are stated as certainties quite frequently whether they come from the institutions of religion, education, politics, or science. I find that our culture has lost sight of the value of embracing the knowledge of knowing that we do not know or cannot know.

I have found that the desire to try to replace mystery with false certainty is a fool’s errand. I see this repeated over and over again in history. It leads down all sorts of silly and hurtful paths. Minor issues become major battlegrounds, honest exploration is sacrificed on the altar of exclusionary social litmus tests, and institutions make all sorts of embarrassing mistakes (sometimes with deadly consequences). Embracing mystery, on the other hand, has pushed my heart and mind to new avenues of possibility, exploration, discovery and faith. I love how Catholic mystic Richard Rohr puts it: “Mystery is not something we can not understand. Mystery is something we can endlessly understand.”

The letter to Hebrew believers has always been shrouded in mystery, not the least of which is the identity of the author. Two centuries after it was penned we are still not certain who wrote the letter. My fundamentalist Bible professors taught me that I must believe it was Paul who wrote it. Textual critics in education laugh at such a claim, telling me it certainly couldn’t be Paul. Arguments have been made for a host of first century figures (i.e. Luke, Apollos, Barnabas). More recently, some scholars have argued that it was most certainly a woman, Priscilla, who was among Jesus larger circle of 70 disciples and travelled with Paul. I find this possibility fascinating and stimulating. It has led me to discover more about this amazing woman through whom God did amazing things. I know, however, at least one of my fundamentalist professors would have said it most certainly wasn’t Priscilla and would certainly have marginalized and subtly punished me educationally had I steadfastly held to the possibility in his class.

I do not know who wrote the letter to the Hebrew believers, and that’s perfectly fine for me. It is a mystery that has much for me to discover in its exploration of possibility.

In today’s chapter we encounter yet another mystery in the revelation of Christ as eternal High Priest. The Hebrew believers who first received this letter would have intimate knowledge about how the Hebrew priestly system worked as prescribed by the Law of Moses. Only descendants of Aaron (Moses’ right-hand man) were to be priests, and the High Priest could only come from those genetic ranks. According to the prophets, however, the Messiah was to come from the tribe of Judah and the house of David as Jesus did. Remember Christmas? Mary gives birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, the “City of David.” Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for the census because they were both descendants of David in the tribe of Judah.

But now the mysterious author of Hebrews lays out a claim that Christ is our eternal “High Priest,” the cosmic conduit between God and man. But the Hebrew readers would know that Jesus was not from the line of Aaron, so how could He be High Priest? The author reveals Jesus as High Priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” In Genesis 14:18 Abram (who would soon be known as Abraham) meets a mysterious King of Salem named Melchizedek who was “priest of God Most High.” He serves Abram bread and wine (remind you of anything?) and blesses Abram. Abram in return presents the priest Melchizedek an offering of a tenth of everything.

That’s all we know about Melchizedek. This mysterious person was “priest of God Most High” before Abram was Abraham, before Israel was a people, before the Law of Moses was given, before the Hebrew priesthood was defined as descendants of Aaron. It’s a mystery, and the author of Hebrews attaches the mystery of Christ the cosmic High Priest to the lineage to the mysterious Melchizedek who appears within the Hebrew tradition but outside the system of Moses.

This morning I’m once again perplexed, stimulated, and inspired by the mystery of Melchizedek, of Jesus, and of Hebrews. As I humbly embrace the mystery I push deeper into that which can be endlessly understood and so take another step forward on the path of faith and Spirit.

Embracing Truth Wrapped in Paradox

See, my servant will act wisely;
    he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
    and his form marred beyond human likeness—
Isaiah 52:13-14 (NIV)

Creation is full of mystery.

After stumbling upon a couple of YouTube videos, Wendy and I spent some time this past week pondering a couple of mysteries that have baffled physicists about the Quantum world. In the “Two Slot Experiment” it appears that matter not only behaves in ways that defy reason, but it also behaves differently when we’re watching. In another experiment, two seemingly independent atoms at opposite ends of the universe can be entangled and determine the other’s behavior. In the mystery of Schrodinger’s cat, two seemingly independent realities exist at the same time (the Cosmos’ version of “Yes, And“).

I love mystery. Richard Rohr writes in his book, The Divine Dance that mystery is not something we cannot understand but rather something that we endlessly understand. We don’t capture the mystery, the mystery captures us.

All of creation is the expression of the Creator, including the mysteries of Quantum mechanics and Schrodinger’s cat. It is through the ancient prophet Isaiah that God will tell us (later this week in our chapter-a-day journey),

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Even Einstein understood that science and faith were not mutually exclusive, but enjoyed their own form of spooky entanglement . “Science without religion is lame,” he said, “and religion without science is blind.”

Today’s chapter is about redemption. God through Isaiah says in the early part of the chapter:

“You were sold for nothing,
    and without money you will be redeemed.”

At the end of the chapter Isaiah the seer slips into one of his prophetic “Servant Songs” about the coming Messiah, who will do the redeeming. In a mysterious paradox, the “exalted” Messiah suffers in horrific ways:

See, my servant will act wisely;
    he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
    and his form marred beyond human likeness—

Paradox and mystery. It is at the core of our understanding of God, the universe, and everything. This is not something of which I should be afraid, rather it is a reality that should both captivate and motivate me to reach further up and further in. It should be enjoyed and pursued. One is Three and Three is One. Two seemingly independent realities are simultaneously true, and two seemingly independent atoms are inexplicably entangled across the universe. Matter behaves differently when it is being observed. The ultimate Redeemer will be exalted, not through power and wealth, but through unbelievable suffering at the hands of those He created. My mind is capable of far more than I can possibly imagine with the fraction of it that I use, and if it were processing at 100% it would still fall infinitely short of the One (er, Three) who Created it.

This morning, I am embracing Truth wrapped in paradoxical mystery.

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