“The queen of the south shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold a greater than Solomon here.” –Matthew 12:42
What Jesus says in Matthew 12 regarding himself being “a greater than Solomon” can be applied to all of the Old-Testament types of Our Lord. In the context of that passage, in fact, Jesus says the same of Jonas the prophet, too. But if we go beyond this immediate context, we can apply the general conventions of Biblical typology as well as what we know by simple faith about Jesus Christ and draw this conclusion: no matter how great they were, Jesus Christ is “a greater than” every single one of His types in the Old Testament. (Yes, this smacks of “supersessionism”!)
The Lenten Mass propers provide us with some rich textual juxtapositions that make the point strikingly.
In real time as I write this, it is the Saturday of the third week of Quadragesima (Lent). Today, as I was meditating on the propers before Holy Mass, I read the long passage about Susanna and the two old perverts from the Prophesy of Daniel, which selectively excerpts Daniel 13 (1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62). Soon after comes the Gospel, wherein Saint John relates the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11).
Daniel, in a much longer passage than the Gospel, gloriously vindicates the innocent Susanna. Jesus prevents the death of an apparently guilty woman at the hands of an angry mob. Daniel prevents a travesty of justice and secures actual justice. Jesus, in presaging a change from the Old Testament to the New, ensures mercy for the sinner, who is admonished to “sin no more.” Daniel reconvenes a court proceeding and separately interrogates the old perverts to establish their guilt. Jesus, with far less effort, writes mysteriously on the ground, and thereby has the would-be firing line put down their weapons “beginning at the eldest,” who are reminiscent of the old perverts who falsely accused Susanna. Jesus thereby prevents a blood-shedding, whereas Daniel had assured that the blood of the guilty was shed.
This coming week in Lent — the fourth week, which begins with Laetare Sunday — presents us with a few more of these pairings of antitypes with Jesus doing something similar but better.
Monday’s pairing is not so easy to see. The Old-Testament Lesson (3 Kings 3:16-28) relates the story of the two bickering harlots and the living baby that Solomon proposed should be “split” with a sword and given to the two. This was the episode where the proverbial “wisdom of Solomon” was first manifested, as we learn by the concluding words of the passage: “And all Israel heard the judgment which the king had judged, and they feared the king, seeing that the wisdom of God was in him to do judgment.”
Monday’s Gospel (John 2:13-25) concerns Our Lord cleansing the Temple and telling His enemies, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” the Evangelist assuring us that “He spoke of the temple of His body.” The Gospel pericope ends with a curious antitype of what was said above of Solomon’s wisdom: “Now when he was at Jerusalem, at the pasch, upon the festival day, many believed in his name, seeing his signs which he did. But Jesus did not trust himself unto them, for that he knew all men, and because he needed not that any should give testimony of man: for he knew what was in man.”
If the type-antitype parity is not immediately apparent, let us consider what Solomon was most known for: building the Temple. True, the Temple that Jesus was speaking to was the successor the Solomon’s, that built after the return of the exiles and then vastly improved by Herod the Great. Still, what we have here is a Temple vs. Temple pairing, and Jesus, who is greater than Solomon, is also — as a Temple — greater than the Temple of Jerusalem.
On Tuesday, the Lesson (Ex. 32:7-14) concerns Moses interceding for the Israelites after the shameful episode of the Golden Calf. Alongside that is the Gospel (John 7:14-31), wherein Jesus, the New-Testament Law-Giver and Mediator accuses His enemies of not following Moses’ Law: Among other things, they seek to kill Him, who is both their “God” and their “Neighbor,” thus they perfectly violate the two most important precepts of the Mosaic Law. An attentive reading of the passage shows Our Lord declaring Himself not only to be “sent by” God the Father (as Moses was), but “from” the Father, which Moses was not, at least not in the sense of natural generation (Jesus is exclusively the true and natural son of the Father).
Wednesday presents us with Jesus as the Greater than Eliseus. The Lesson shows us that great prophet, who had inherited the double spirit of Elias, raising from the dead the son of the Sunamitess (4 Kings 4:25-38). The prophet does something curious in effecting this resurrection miracle:
Eliseus therefore went into the house, and behold the child lay dead on his bed. And going in he shut the door upon him, and upon the child, and prayed to the Lord. And he went up, and lay upon the child: and he put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he bowed himself upon him, and the child’s flesh grew warm.
Here is an artistic depiction of the event:
Some of the commentators see in Elias thus contorting himself to accommodate the small dimensions of the lad a type of the Incarnation: God Himself becoming “small” by taking our dimensions in becoming Man to save us.
The prophet leaves the child for a time, going into the house, then returns and finds him gasping seven times and opening his eyes, upon which he presents the boy alive to his mother. Mystically, this seems to be a type of Jesus’ death and resurrection, “returning” to complete our resurrection by his own Resurrection, and sending forth the Church to save us with seven sacraments.
Wednesday’s Gospel (Luke 7:11-16) has Jesus going into the city of Naim, where he will resurrect a dead man who was the only son of his mother. Holy Mother Church obviously wants us to connect the dots between this passage and the story of Eliseus and the son of the Sunamitess. If the comparison is beautiful, the contrast is notable: Whereas Eliseus goes to great effort to accomplish his ends and “prayed to the Lord” for the lad to come back to life, Jesus issues a simple command upon touching the bier where the dead man lay and forthwith he rises again to be returned to his mother alive.
Lastly, Friday juxtaposes the story of Elias raising a young boy to life (3 Kings 17:17-24) with Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45). I’ve already written quite a bit, so at this point I will leave the reader with two suggestions: (1) meditate on this one yourself; (2) listen to the next episode of Reconquest (Episode 321: Looking at the Lenten Liturgy, Part IV), wherein Sister Maria Philomena and I discuss it. These two suggestions are not necessarily and either-or choice; both-and is an excellent option!