Seventy-two Disciples and the Israel of God: A Reflection on Biblical Typology

Jul 10th, 2013 | By | Category: Blog Posts

When we read the Bible, one of the most important things that we need to do is to read it typologically. A biblical type is any person, place, thing, or event that pre-figures something that comes later and becomes its fulfillment (antitype). Thus, one who reads the Bible typologically “discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefiguration of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son.” (CCC 128.) In the Bible, an example of a type would be Moses. Moses went up the Mountain of Sinai and received the Law of God and gave to the people of Israel the Law of the Kingdom. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus ascends a mountain and delivers to the people the New Law of the Kingdom. Thus, in theology we speak of Moses as a type of Christ because he pre-figures what Jesus eventually would fulfill. There are many examples in the Bible of such types, people like David, the great King, who provide the pattern for what the Messiah eventually would fulfill.

Madonna of the Green Cushion,
Andrea Solari (c. 1507)

In the Gospel from this past Sunday we read of the 72 disciples who were sent out by Jesus to proclaim His message. Why 72? What is significant about this number? Think back to what we said about the importance of typology. The symbolism of such a number is not accidental. In the Old Testament book of Numbers, we read of Moses having selected 70 elders to assist him in carrying out his work. These 70 elders came to Moses and were anointed for service. We read, “So Moses went out and told the people what the LORD had said. Gathering seventy elders of the people, he had them stand around the tent. The LORD then came down in the cloud and spoke to him. Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses, he bestowed it on the seventy elders; and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied.” (Numbers 11:24-25.) However, there were two additional men who were chosen to go up to the tent with the others: “two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, were not in the gathering but had been left in the camp. They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent; yet the spirit came to rest on them also, and they prophesied in the camp.” (Numbers 11:26.) Thus, the number of elders who are anointed by the LORD to assist Moses in his work among the people of Israel is actually 72.

Jesus, in choosing the 72, is making the connection with Moses, demonstrating that the work He is doing is in continuity with the Old Testament story and as such He is fulfilling the Old Testament message. This is also why Jesus chooses twelve Apostles. Why twelve? Because the twelve Apostles are the spiritual re-gathering of the twelve tribes of Israel. Just as the twelve tribes were the natural and biological source of Israel’s life, the twelve Apostles become the spiritual and supernatural source of the Church’s life. This is why we speak in the creed of the “one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” The Church is founded upon the Apostles and the mission given them by Jesus Christ. This is why the Church is called the New Israel. In our second reading, we read that St. Paul asked for peace and mercy to be upon the “Israel of God.” The Israel of God is the Church, which is comprised of both Jew and Gentile united to Christ.

So here we see how Jesus is beginning the establishment of the Church, providing the Church with her institutional and ministerial mission rooted in His mission. This is why we speak of the Church as the “Body of Christ.” The Church is not a mere human institution founded upon human ingenuity, but rather is the extension of the Person and Work of her Founder, Jesus Christ. Pope Francis says, “It is the Church which brings Christ to me, and me to Christ; parallel journeys are very dangerous! When we venture beyond the Church’s teaching and community . . . and do not remain in them, we are not one with the God of Jesus Christ.” (Homily from the Papal Mass of May 19.)  The Church is where we find Christ and where Christ finds us. The Pope also said, “It is not possible to find Jesus outside the church. The great Paul VI said it is ‘an absurd dichotomy’ to want to live with Jesus without the church, to follow Jesus outside the church, to love Jesus without the church.”

This leads us to consider our first reading from Isaiah. Again, keep in mind what we said about typology. In the passage read this past Sunday, we heard these words, “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her; exult, exult with her . . . ” Of what is Jerusalem a type, that is, what does Jerusalem represent? The Church! Why Jerusalem? Because Jerusalem was the City of God, it was the city in which God made His Presence known in the great Temple. In the New Testament all that Jerusalem represented is now fulfilled in the Church, because the Church is the new Temple, the House and Presence of God, again, as Pope Francis recently remarked, “That, which was prefigured in the ancient Temple, is realized in the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit: the Church is the ‘house of God,’ the place of His presence, where we can find and meet the Lord, the Church is the temple in which dwells the Holy Spirit . . . ” Isaiah says that we should be glad because of her, all that love her.

Do you love the Church? Do you love the Church and pray in and for the Church? Do you exult and praise God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, with the Church? Too often people say that they love Jesus but not the Church. Let that sentiment not be true of you or me! The Church, if she were a merely human institution, would not be worthy of our love and attention, but, the Church is not merely a human institution, she is the privileged place of encounter between God and man.

Isaiah again states:

Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts! For thus says the LORD: Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent. As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.

Notice that imagery! It is imagery of Jerusalem as a mother, a mother that provides nourishment to us, a mother that carries us and comforts us. This leads us to consider the Church as our Mother. In fact, this image of the Church as our Mother is one of the oldest and most venerable images of the Church in Tradition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: ‘We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation.’ Because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith.”  (CCC 159 [internal citation omitted].)  It is from the womb of the Church as Mother that we were brought into the family of God in Baptism. It is from the hand of the Church that we are nursed and strengthened in the faith through the Mass and catechesis. In the words of St. Cyprian, “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother.”

And if the Church is our Mother, and she is, then, like all mothers, she is also our teacher. Do we listen to our Mother? Or do we decide for ourselves what we shall accept and believe? Many people say, “I accept what the Church says about helping the poor, but the Church is wrong to speak about sexual matters. She should just mind her business about such things.” Is that really what a Mother does? Does a Mother, if she is a good Mother, leave it to her children just to figure it out? No! Mothers guide and protect their children. Mothers guide and shape their children, and defend them, and rebuke them, and support them in life. If this is true of earthly mothers, how much more so is it true of the Church as our Mother. As we consider this image of the Church as Mother and Teacher, we must consider her words to us, her teaching, her voice. Do we seek our own path to following Christ? Do we think that we can divorce the voice of Christ from the voice of the Church? Jesus says of His Apostles, “he who hears you, hears Me.”

This maternal image of the Church is fundamentally connected to Our Lady, Mary. Mary in a supreme way is the Mother of the Church. Mary is in a supreme way the model of what it means to be Mother and disciple. Vatican II, quoting the great Church Father St. Ambrose, states:

[T]he Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ. For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother. (Lumen Gentium 63.)

If we are to follow Christ we must follow the example of His Mother. How did Mary follow God? She heard His Word and accepted His will: “May it be done to me according to Your Word.” Do you hear the Word of God and accept His will for your life? In the Gospel we hear that, “the harvest is great but the laborers are few.” I am confident that there are some who are hearing that call to labor in the vineyard of the Lord, to harvest not grapes but souls. Are you willing to consider God’s call and His will in your life to enter the priesthood or consecrated life? Parents, are you open to raising your children in such a way that they learn how to answer God’s call for their lives? Do you pray for vocations to the priesthood, are you willing to be open to giving your sons to the Church to become Priests of Jesus Christ? Are you open to talking to your daughters about entering consecrated life? For the family is the Domestic Church; it is the first school of faith.

Mary in her womb carried the very Word of God, Jesus Christ, and is rightly called the Mother of God. As followers of Christ, we have Christ within us, our hope of glory! Are you aware of the fact that where you go, you bring Christ with you? Mary also kept the things concerning her Son in her heart, holding them dear to her. Do you contemplate the things of God or are you more preoccupied by the passing things of this world? Mary, in her great song of praise the Magnificat, sang that her soul magnified the Lord. Do you magnify God in your lives? Do you seek to let your light shine so that those you come in contact with can see the work of God in your lives?

So many more things can be said of Mary as our preeminent example, but we shall end on this last one: as Christ came to His Cross, we see present at the foot of the Cross His mother, Mary. Mary went with her Son to Calvary, she witnessed His suffering and death. Imagine that for a moment. Mary at the foot of the Cross, witnessing the crucifixion of her beloved Son. Like St. Paul, who said in our second reading, “may I never boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Mary’s boast is in the Cross of her Son and Lord, Jesus Christ. Is that your boast, is that your hope? May we heed the call to follow the Lord Jesus Christ by listening to the voice of our Mother the Church, and may we look to the intercession of Mary, our Mother, to guide us and lead us, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

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  1. Nice article Tom. As an aside, I recall Revelation 12. Rev 12:5 speaks of Jesus (“She brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron”) in such a way as to remind us of Psalm 2:9 (“You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”) Clearly, the woman in Rev 12 is Mary, mother of our Lord. Yet, she is also our Mother as is shown us in Revelation 12.17: “Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring – those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” Mary is the Mother of all Christians, and yes, Mary is a type of the Church.

  2. Thank you for a very inspiring article on the Church. Indeed, to listen to Christ is to listen to His Church…our Church…our mother…

  3. Tom,

    What a wonderful piece, thank you. It was a joy to learn that God had not left us as orphans, and I do find comfort when I look to the church!

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