“Like God”: the Meaning of the Greatest Commandment

June 28, 2020 — Leave a comment

So I had this realization today while talking with my kids about the Bible. We started at the beginning in Genesis, where I’ve been showing them that the serpents promise, “you shall be like God” was not the temptation that resulted in the Fall. Instead it was Adam and Eve’s doubting the goodness of God and not standing in their position of already being like God. Just a few short paragraphs before, Genesis tells us that God made mankind in his in own image, to have dominion over the beasts. And here in the temptation, we have a representative of the beasts telling Eve that she really isn’t like God. There’s a lot to unpack here.

Mankind being the image of God is a key concept in scripture. We often overlook how it’a linked to the theme of idolatry. I mean why is God so against idols/images of God (the 2nd of the 10 commandments), especially when God himself shows himself to be an image maker in the very first chapter of Genesis? Mankind is the “idol” at the center of God’s creation. It seems to be that idolatry, making an image of God is wrong because it takes away from the respect owed to the image which God has made. The proper homage to God is not to images made of wood and stone but to the people around us who are made of blood and bone. One cannot worship God apart from honoring the image which he has made.

Our discussion lead us to Mark 12 where Jesus is confronted by a series of questions. The first is about paying taxes to Cesar. To which Jesus famously responds, “render to Cesar the things that are Cesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” The thing that belongs to Cesar is a coin which bares his image. And by contrasting implication the thing which belongs to God is the whole person who bares the image of God.

But then we moved a little further down in the same chapter. Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment. And Jesus responds by saying “Hear o Israel the Lord our God is ONE Lord and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and will all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” But then Jesus adds, “the second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment (singular) greater than than these (plural).”

Jesus is doing something rather remarkable here and his next topic highlights what he’s doing. Jesus raises the issue of Psalms 110 where King David writes, “the Lord said to my Lord…” Now stop right here. What did we just hear? There is only ONE Lord! And yet here we have a conversation between TWO Lords (who are over David the King). Jesus has just affirmed that there is only One Lord even as he points out two. That’s what he’s doing in his answer to the question of the Greatest commandment.

It’s not two separate commandments. It’s ONE commandment. We are to love God with is our whole selves and that the love of our whole selves is meant to be directed towards God’s image.

Mark 12 ends by returning to the issue of coins. Jesus watches and praises a poor widow who gives all she has to live on in the offering box. The rich give too but clearly not all of what they have. The implication is they let this poor woman go away empty handed when she by contrast has given her last dime to the Love of God and others.

Matthew Scott Miller

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