Hebrews 6:17–7:2; Matthew 9:35–38
The readings today reflect two different elements of religious vocation, whether to the priesthood, diaconate, or religious life. One is that eternal mystery of Christ’s royal priesthood, in which all bishops and presbyters take part, and other is that call to service that those of us in the diaconate and religious life make our primary ministry.
The first reading from Hebrews talks about this mysterious figure Melchizedek from the book of Genesis. He was a priest, it says, of God Most High who offered bread and wine and blessed Abram after Abram had defeated the kings who has attacked his kinsmen. Abram gave him a tenth of the spoils from his victory. So while the order is a little different than our liturgy, the principle is the same. The priest offers bread and wine, and you give a tenth to the priest.
Now, I would quibble with one detail of the translation I just read, and that is that the translation of Melchi’-zedek is not “righteous king” but “king of righteousness,” which has a slightly different feel to it. But what we see here is a reference to Christ’s priesthood. He is the King of Righteousness and King of Peace, and as Psalm 109 says, “You are a priest forever, a priest like Melchizedek of old.” Christ’s priesthood is eternal, and those who are ordained to the priesthood are, in effect, exercising that same eternal priesthood in persona Christi, or in the person of Christ. That is a great honor for men who exercise this ministry, but it also causes some trepidation. Am I good enough to exercise Christ’s priesthood? Am I worthy? Of course, none of us are, but God will that we come with our weaknesses, and He provides the strength we need.
In the gospel reading, Jesus sees the people in the villages in their illness and disease, and they seem to him like lost sheep. And so he says, “Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” The RSV translation says, “Pray… to the lord of the harvest.” And so we are doing this today. We are praying for those laborers, for vocations to priesthood, diaconate, and religious life. Notice that they are described as laborers, perhaps even servants. And that is what ministry involves—particularly diaconal ministry. The word diakonos itself is the Greek word for service. An ordained or religious vocation is a call to serve, to labor, to bring in the lost sheep, to gather the harvest of evangelization. It is not a call to people who wish to be elevated but to people who are willing to get their hands dirty, to smell like the sheep.
That is truly what Christ calls us all to, but especially to those in ordained ministry and religious life. May we pray for more laborers. May we encourage those among us and in our households to consider a vocation. May we ourselves also consider whether God is calling us.