- Written by Catherine Damato
A man, whom some might call a missionary, was making visits in a Jewish neighborhood. He found one person at home who said, What I don't like about people like you is that you always accuse us Jews of killing your Christ."
"Whoever told you that got it wrong," replied the missionary. He whipped open his Bible to Isaiah 53:5: "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed."
"There, you see?" said the missionary. "He hung there for me."
But why do I, a Christian gentile, and not a missionary, love the Jewish people? My first response would be, "Why not?"
Perhaps my early education was neglected. I grew up in a Christian home with parents who failed to teach me prejudice against any ethnicity. Well, it's not easy to teach what you don't know, and my parents had no apparent prejudice and didn't know anything about "Christ-killers." But they did know that in the judicial event of A.D. 33 that changed the world the Roman governing authorities had their share of responsibility.
And they knew full well that when the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) hung on the cross it was so they, lost sinners, could find entrance into heaven.
But I was due for a shock. When I finished high school, I commuted from our peaceful little town to a nearby city to attend business college. There I was thrown into a strange milieu. Among my classmates were several young women of Irish descent—and there was Emma Cohen (not her real name). While I enjoyed my Irish classmates, I also enjoyed Emma's company.
One day, I went home with her at lunch time and met her family. That same day, Emma left school early, and as soon as she was gone one of the daughters of Erin astonished me by asking, "Catherine, are you Jewish?" I assured her that I was not, but I was baffled by the question. It was then that it first dawned on me that Emma Cohen was Jewish. But I thought her religious preference was her own business.
Those were troubled times for America and for the world. The Nazi menace was growing in Europe. We heard of the horrors of Kristallnacht and other "demonstrations" against the Jews of Germany. My thought was, "Isn't it terrible what those Germans are doing to those other Germans?"
Whether one's orthodoxy was Lutheran or Jewish I hardly knew the difference. But I knew that I wanted to distance myself as far as possible from such carryings-on.
There were other encounters on my rather long road to recognizing the tribal taboos we were living under. But as I met more and more Jews, I found that they fit into the categories of good, bad and in-between, just as my gentile acquaintances did. Many Jews I found to be talented, imaginative, creative persons well worth knowing. And different. That difference was tantalizing to me. Why should I limit myself to befriending people just like me? I already knew what they were like. Meeting somebody a little different from myself was stimulating.
Perhaps an ancient thinker said it better. His name was Matthew, and he leads off the New Testament.
If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.
Then I had my own personal encounter with the Messiah of the Jews. Being born into a Christian home had not made me a Christian. I could not inherit salvation from my parents. I could not acquire it by growing up in a Christian atmosphere. I could become a Christian only by personally believing in Christ for myself.
After my experience with Jesus I went to church willingly, listened attentively. And I became very aware of the Jewish people. The preacher in the church I went to spoke much of Christianity's indebtedness to Israel. We learned of the glory of God's call to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3—his promise to Abraham of a land, a people, a great nation and a sacred destiny as a man through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed.
We learned that Abraham's seed through Isaac would be set apart as God's prized possession (Psalm 135:4), vital to him in carrying out his plan for the ages. It is said better in Romans 9:4:
They had everything going for them—family, covenants, glory, revelation, worship, promises…
As such they would be under constant attack from Satan.
We learned, too, that in the same passage where God says, "I will bless those who bless you," the blessing is followed by a grim warning: "And I will curse him who curses you" (Genesis 12:3). In modern times we have seen both the blessing and the curse carried out. Is it not possible that our own success as a nation, our emergence into superpowerhood, rests on one factor—that there has never been in the short history of the United States an official government-sponsored persecution of its Jewish citizens? At the same time, the twentieth century's most fanatical and merciless persecutor of the Jews, Adolph Hitler, saw his boasted "Thousand Year Reich" go down in flames in its twelfth year as he died by his own hand.
There is also the vast contribution of Jews to society as a whole—in science, medicine, art and literature. The United States is home to the philosopher Mortimer Adler, one of the most influential American thinkers since William James. Millions of parents can thank Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin for their discoveries, which gave assurance that no child need ever again be struck down by that horrendous infantile crippler, poliomyelitis.
Albert Einstein's concept of relativity revolutionized thinking in physics and math, while the painter Marc Chagall and the sculptor Jacob Lipstein made great contributions in the world of art. In literature, we can point to Sholem Asch and Elie Wiesel.
But these names represent only a sampling. Jews have made inestimable contributions to science and culture wherever they have gone. They will continue to do so. They are indeed God's prized possession.
Come to think of it, the Bible itself has not one single gentile author—or perhaps one only, for there is the possibility that Luke was a gentile. So we gentiles have to thank Israel for the Bible that we cherish.
And we owe thanks to Israel for our Redeemer. For us he wasn't the Messiah. We gentiles weren't looking for a messiah. We had never been promised a messiah. We didn't feel put out when Jesus sent forth his disciples with this commandment:
Don't begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don't try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood.
Why? Because the disciples were to announce to the people of the covenant that their King had come and was ready to set up the kingdom through which all the world would be blessed. The subjects of that kingdom, the Jews, were to make themselves ready for his service.
God's Word is replete with declarations that the Messiah's ministry would bless the whole world. The promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, "In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed," is repeated four times in Genesis. (1)
The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with examples of how the Jewish people were a blessing to the nations. (2) How can anyone who loves God be anything but admiring, and even awestruck, by a people so blessed, so chosen, so peculiarly set apart for a special destiny? The New Testament writer Paul said it best, in Romans 11:33:
Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It's way over our heads. We'll never figure it out.
And knowledge of the one true God was given to the world by Israel. During their 400 year sojourn in Egypt, the children of Israel were exposed to paganism in its most undiluted form, with its idols and its worship of created beings rather than the Creator who made them.
But the simple declaration of Deuteronomy 6:4—"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!"—swept away whatever attractions such beliefs may have had and established the identity of God as One and as personal to the believer. The Sh'ma was buttressed by the commandment forbidding belief in any god but the Lord God and by the commandment against idolatry in any form (Deuteronomy 5:6-10).
The gods of the pagans could never be fully appeased; their religious practices were debasing and bloody. Of the fertility rites of the Canaanites, whom the Israelites were told to destroy, the less said the better. In Romans 1:18-32, the apostle Paul described the decline of paganism from simple unthankfulness to total depravity.
In the centuries since Genesis was written, critics of the Bible have decried the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, which didn't come about, after all. What they don't understand is that human sacrifice was a common practice of Abraham's pagan neighbors. God was asking Abraham, "Will you do for me what your neighbors do for their false gods?" But the God who revealed himself to Israel and then to the whole world did not require human sacrifice. The death of Jesus two thousand years ago was sufficient.
But I have digressed from my original theme: why I, a Gentile, love the Jewish people. As I said in the beginning of this article, I never had any feelings of hostility toward any group of people, but when I became a Christian I appreciated Jewish people more than I had before.
And what is a Christian? I'm not a Christian because I'm a gentile, for there are Buddhists, Hindus, persons of many other faiths, among the world's gentile population.
The first Christians were, of course, Jews who recognized Christ as their Messiah. Acts 11:26 says, "It was in Antioch that the disciples were for the first time called Christians." The term implies belief in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, since in Greek Christos means "the anointed one," or "messiah."
Christians, then, were those who had altered their beliefs regarding God and so had passed from one state to another, from a state of separation from God—that is, lost—to a state of union with God through Christ and what he accomplished on the cross.
Becoming a Christian changed my feelings toward the Jewish people from interest and attraction to a great sense of indebtedness.
My indebtedness is to a people who are people like everybody else, but who are also much more than that. They are the people who have given my Savior to the world, who have given God's Word to the world, who have given the knowledge of God himself, the one true God, to the world.
They are achievers who have given many temporal blessings to the world; but more than that, they have given immeasurable and incalculable spiritual blessings to the world.
And they are a people with a pedigree that few, if any, gentiles can match. One Jewish friend of mine marveled when I mentioned something my great-grandfather had done in Pennsylvania in 1856.
"Eighteen fifty-six!" she gasped. She was awed. Her parents had been immigrants from Russia, and she could not trace her ancestry beyond that. But the more I thought about it the less impressed I was with my nineteenth-century American forebearer.
If I could see my friend now I'd say, "You can with authority claim descendance from Abraham. What's 1856 compared to that?"
How then can a gentile who knows Christ as Savior not love the Jewish people, a people loved by God, chosen by him for his own glory? As Moses bade farewell to the people he led out of Egypt to the very boundaries of the Promised Land, he said:
Happy are you, O Israel!
Who is like you,
a people saved by the Lord,
The shield of your help
And the sword of your majesty!
Your enemies shall submit to you,
And you shall tread down their high places
Do you really want to know why I love the Jews? As I get closer to God, and see more about who and what he loves, I find it in my heart to want to love those he loves. And God loves the Jewish people very, very much. The forces of evil hate the Jewish people and would destroy them. So, I guess that the choice is between God and Satan, good and evil. And I choose God's way—I love the Jewish people.
All Hebrew Scriptures are quoted from the New King James Version. All New Testament Scriptures are quoted from The Message by Eugene Petersen.
- Genesis 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:10-22
- Genesis 41:56-57; 2Kings 5; Daniel 2:28a
Holy Bible: The New King James Version. New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983.
Petersen, Eugene., The Message. Colorado Springs: NavPress Publishing Group, 1993.
Unger, Merrill F. Unger's Bible Dictionary, 3d ed. "Canaan, Canaanites,"Canaanite Religion," 171-173. Chicago: Moody Press, 1963.