Reflection on Image and Likeness

Clergy Corner by Fr. Robert Falabella

“The infinite God said “Let us make man in our image and likeness.” (Genesis 1:26). What a privilege and awesome ability given us! But how are we, as finite human beings to understand this?

This potential of being finitely in God’s image and likeness and its effect to “know and love God,” comes from God, in His love for us (John 3:16) and willing to share with us, in a finite way, something of His knowing and loving creation, as mirrored in Jesus Christ.

It is initially through the Sacrament of Baptism that the Spirit of Christ enters within us, so that we can call God “Father,” and, as the adopted children of God, thus participate in the “Family of God.” Through Baptism then, we see revealed what it means to be spiritually and physically in the “image and likeness of God:” herein the fulfillment of what was begun in Genesis: “Then God said, let us make man in our image and likeness…” (Genesis 1:26-27) which would find its crowning achievement in the Mystery of the Incarnate Word of God. To paraphrase Christ’s words: I have not come to change prophecy one iota but to fulfill it. Thus, through Baptism in Christ, what was first begun with our first parents is now completed in the humanity of Christ -- “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

When, however, this ability of knowing and loving God atrophies through a sinful life, man then becomes seemingly something less than the lower animals who were never so spiritually gifted, and thus an ugly abomination to God, with   severe consequences as intimated in Christ’s teaching: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much; and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48). And what more could any human being have, than to be entrusted with the “Image of God” as revealed in the Incarnate Word of God -- Jesus Christ? “A consummation devoutly to be wished:” “…that the heavenly Father may see and love in us what He sees and loves in His Son” -- as prayed in the Preface of the Mass. And we as Catholics are so blessed with our precious gift of faith.

The essence of this rejection by our first parents of being in God’s Image, was exemplified in their choosing to listen to an image “other than God” as to who they are and their purpose in this passing life -- and it’s terrible consequence: becoming “sin,” with its tragic effect of death and the loss of paradise,” as inferred, for instance, in Christ’s teaching: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin… will be thrown into Gahanna (Hell)” (Mark 9:42-45).

To save “man” from himself, the heavenly Father sent us “Emmanuel” -- God with us -- that is God, in the mystery of the Incarnation -- comes into our image and likeness to show us how to experience being in God’s Image through a   humanity that is “holy.” For God said: “Be holy because I the Lord YOUR God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

Thus, in the humanity of Jesus Christ we see revealed what it means to be spiritually and physically in “the image and likeness of God.” “Beloved, we are God’s children now, what we shall be has not yet been revealed, we do know that when it is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

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