A rich man came to Jesus asking how he could attain eternal life. Jesus gives the expected answer; follow the Ten Commandments. Surprisingly, though, Jesus fails to mention the first four commandments. He lists those commandments regarding right behavior towards others but not those regarding right behavior towards God.
In these first four, idols and the worship of other gods are forbidden. Did Jesus think these commandments were irrelevant to attaining eternal life? Or did he just assume the man kept them because he was a Jew?
I don’t think any of these options work. Jesus did address these commandments but in an unexpected manner. A simple question would not have gotten to the heart of the man’s issue. Jesus knew the man did not recognize that his possessions were preventing him from worshiping God alone. Only a challenge would open the man’s eyes.
“You lack one thing: go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me”(Mark 10:21).
Jesus does not giving him a new commandment about money, but reinterprets the old ones pertaining to God. The man’s failure consists in those commandments Jesus did not mention. His possessions are an idol, another god. He needs them and cannot part from them.
What is particularly striking about Jesus’ challenge though is not that he commands the man to give all these up. The striking thing is what he asks him to do afterwards. “Come follow me.” The claim Jesus is making is that once one’s idols are cast out, following Jesus is the way one worships God. For the man to follow the commandments he must give up his idol, money, and worship God alone.
To worship God, Jesus says, is to follow his son.
This has implications on how we read the rest of Gospels. Jesus commands his followers to keep the Torah in Matthew 5:17-18, but he defines Torah in an unexpected way.
On the mount, he speaks of his teaching’s relation to Torah, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, not until heaven and earth pass away, not one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until it is all accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven”(Mttw 5:17-19). And at the end of the sermon “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock”(Mttw 7:24). What we find is that The Sermon on the Mount is not another interpretation of Torah among many others. It is a redefinition of Torah. Jesus’ words are Torah.
Christians thus, are to obey Jesus’ words precisely because the Law and the prophets will not be abolished. Devotion to the Law must remain but its observance now consists in following Jesus. Jesus speaks the Law which the Torah was only a shadow of.
The first of the two greatest commandments then, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength”(Mark 12:30) is made manifest by going after Jesus.