According to Old Testament law, the service of priests is tied to membership in the tribe of the sons of Aaron and Levi. So John the Baptist is a priest. In him the priesthood of the Old Covenant moves toward Jesus; it becomes a pointer toward Jesus, a proclamation of his mission.
It strikes me as important that in John the whole Old Covenant priesthood becomes a prophecy of Jesus, and so—together with Psalm 118, the highest expression of its theology and spirituality—it points toward him, it makes itself his. A one-sided emphasis on the contrast between the Old Testament sacrificial cult and the spiritual worship of the New Covenant (cf. Rom 12:1) would obscure this connecting line, this inner dynamic of the Old Testament priesthood, which is a path toward Jesus Christ not only in John but earlier too, in the development of priestly spirituality expressed in Psalm 118.
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When it is said of John that he “shall drink no wine nor strong drink” (Lk1:15), this likewise aligns him with the priestly tradition. “Concerning the priests who are consecrated to God, it is said, ‘Drink no wine nor strong drink, you nor your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations’ (Lev 10:9)” [. . .] John, who will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (cf. Lk 1:15), lives permanently, as it were, “in the tent of meeting”: he is a priest not only at certain moments, but with his whole existence, and in this way he proclaims the new priesthood that will appear with Jesus.
Pope Benedict XVI Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives
I am perpetually surprised by Pope Benedict’s insights into the story of the Gospel. They are at once stunningly new and yet at the same time they also seem like they should have been blindingly obvious. Of course John was a priest. That’s how the Old Testament priesthood worked. So why did I never put the pieces together before?
Rich stuff to chew on.
I’m going to be posting more of these moments that made me pause.