Humans have a
knack of turning complicated subjects into simple, black-and-white issues.
That is certainly the case with the history of how biblical Jews related to
non-Jews and how Jewish-Christians related to Gentile-Christians.
Many of us
presume Jesus was sent by God to found a new religion: Christianity. The
prerequisites for joining were that people renounce
their "old religion," accept Jesus' teachings and submit to the
hierarchical institution He founded.
The majority of
Jesus' own people -- the Jews -- who rejected Him were, therefore, condemned
to spend their earthly existence as members of a "discredited"
religion, never possessing God's whole truth and never achieving the fullness
of faith Jesus offers.
If only things
were that simple and easy to comprehend. Those who return to our earliest
expressions of faith -- the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures -- know "it ain't necessarily so."
single answer to the Jewish/Gentile question even in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Some authors demanded total separation between Israelites and non-Israelites,
even threatening death to any Jew who engaged in "intimacies" with
At the same
time, there was a prophetic element within ancient Judaism that took a more
liberal stance, none more so than the author of the first reading (Isaiah
Active within 50
years of the Babylonian Exile, this prophet experienced non-Jews in unique
situations and relationships. His experiences helped him see them from a
different perspective from those Jews who had never or rarely come into
contact with Gentiles.
foreigners," he announces, "who join themselves to Yahweh,
ministering to Him, loving the name of Yahweh, and becoming His servants,...them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful
in my house of prayer....For my house shall be called a house of prayer for
goes beyond what many Jews of that time were willing to tolerate.
In the Gospel
(Matthew 15:21-28), Jesus seems to echo Isaiah's point of view. St. Matthew
drastically changed the story he found in Mark's Gospel, making Jesus'
initial refusal to help the Gentile woman's daughter a test of her faith.
passes the test and hears the words, "Oh, woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish."
faith were just as accepted in Christianity as Jews with faith.
St. Paul had the most unique theology on the
subject (Romans 11:13-15,29-32). As a good Jew, he
believed Jews should be the first to be evangelized. But he eventually varied
that conviction for two reasons. Jews weren't exactly knocking one another
out of the way in their stampede to convert, while Gentiles were beginning to
commit themselves to Jesus in larger and larger numbers.
that jealousy could be a great motivator. If his Gentile converts could
demonstrate the terrific benefits of their new faith to his fellow Jews, envy
would entice them to become believers.
pulls no punches with his Roman readers: "I am speaking to you Gentiles.
Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I glory in my ministry in order
to make my race jealous and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is
the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?"