At first glance, “typology” looks like one of those big, scary theology words you'd really rather not know about. Actually, it's a term everyone should be familiar with because it helps us understand the Bible and the plan God has designed for our salvation.
God is the Author of Sacred Scripture, which is His inspired Word written in human language. Because of God's authorship, the Bible, even though it was composed by many different human authors in many different times and places, tells one story, the story of God's love for humanity, a love so strong that God Himself became Man to save people from their sins and give them eternal life.
Typology shows us how the parts of the love story between God and humanity fit together. A “type” is an event, idea, thing, or person in salvation history that foreshadows or prefigures another event, idea, thing, or person (called the antitype) in a later chapter of salvation history.
The Church helps us identify Biblical types and antitypes by organizing our daily and Sunday lectionaries in such a way that the foreshadowing and fulfillment in Scripture stand out clearly.
Today's readings offer a prime example of typology in the Bible.
In the First Reading, the prophet Elisha feeds one hundred people with twenty barley loaves and still has some left over. This miraculous event foreshadows or becomes a type of the miracle narrated in today's Gospel, in which Jesus feeds five thousand men with five barley loaves and two fish and has twelve wicker baskets of food left over. We can also identify Elisha as type or prefiguration of Jesus.
In both events, God miraculously feeds His people, satisfying their needs in abundance. Going further, we can see that these miracles foreshadow (or are types of) another miracle that we are personally involved in today: the Holy Eucharist. In the Eucharist, God miraculously feeds His people, satisfying our needs in abundance with His own Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
Let's go one step further. In the Eucharist, we receive a foretaste of Heaven, of that eternal life of intimacy with God. In a sense, then, we can say that the Blessed Sacrament is a type that prefigures the relationship we will have with God in Heaven, even as it allows us to begin to participate in that relationship here on earth.
One thing to keep in mind here... Even though an event, idea, thing, or person is a type or foreshadowing, that event, idea, thing, or person is still real and meaningful in its own right. Elisha was truly a prophet who communicated God's word even though he was also a type of Jesus. The miraculous feeding of the five thousand was still a real, historical event even though it pointed to something beyond itself. And the Eucharist, of course, is a real encounter with God here and now even as it prefigures Heavenly intimacy.
Typology, then, allows us to glimpse the “big picture” of the Scriptures. By identifying types and antitypes, we can see how God's plan of salvation history unfolds throughout the generations as God gradually prepares His people for the coming of the Messiah and for eternal life with Him.