Saturday, November 14, 2009

Romans 1:16, Part 3

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

I am as certain as I live and breathe that this last phrase was never part of the curriculum of my Daily Vacation Bible School course. I can remember no instance of direct anti-Semitism in the Canyon where I grew up, but what I do remember was the complete absence of any discussion whatsoever about the Jews in connection with the Old and New Testaments. I was in my late teens or early twenties before anyone of my acquaintance ever observed that Jesus was a Jew, or that the Apostles were Jews. For some odd reason, Judaism never was a topic in a religious discussion.

Racial bias was almost totally unknown in my childhood and I was practically clueless even as a young adult. In the Chino schools, I can only recall one black student, and he was well-liked. I spent the first through the eleventh grade in an academic community where half of the population was Mexican or of Hispanic descent. As a boy, I mingled with the brown kids as freely as I did with the white kids. I did not perceive that there was any difference between them. Later in high school, it became clear that there was animosity between the two groups, and even violence, but I was not involved in any of the hostilities and no one asked me to take sides. I cannot imagine anyone being more color-blind than I was as a child.

Religious bias, however, did exist. The Baptists and the other protestants who directed the affairs at the little non-denominational church in Sleepy Hollow were decidedly anti-Catholic, which on more than one occasion caused conflicts among the kids riding the bus to school. There were a couple of Catholic families in the Canyon who took umbrage at the anti-papist rhetoric, made their feelings known in no uncertain terms to the minister, and the furor subsided. When Jack Kennedy ran for the Presidency of the United States, his religious orientation became a short-lived issue much like the ones in the Canyon: it flared up and then quickly subsided.

There was another bias that existed in my childhood which was as real to me as anything I experienced as a boy: left-handedness. In the elementary school where I first learned my letters, left-handedness was persecuted. It was not allowed and the teachers went to great lengths to eradicate it from the classroom. My attention was particularly drawn to this issue because of my own writing problems. I wrote with a big hand; that is to say, I was so clumsy that I could not get the letters to fit inside the blue lines of our writing paper. My teacher fussed with me day after day, attempting to make me conform to the standard. The other aspiring writers who received her attention were the lefties. I have always have tried to blame my peculiar scrawl on that teacher and I have been sympathetic to every left-handed person I have ever met. What was wrong with being left-handed? I never understood the concern until I took Spanish. The right hand is the “la derecha”; the left hand is “la sinestre”. There was something “sinister” about being left-handed. Sixty years later, the sinister nature of left-handedness seems laughable, but in 1950 the teachers were in dead-earnest. The odd thing is that no one ever said to anyone that being left-handed was inherently evil.

It was the same way with the Jews in the Canyon. I cannot recall anyone ever saying that Jews were inherently evil, but the prevailing sentiment was as if they were all left-handed. Not two miles from Sleepy Hollow was a facility called “Workmen’s Circle”. It was rather like a resort, established by American Jews of German extraction. I worked there as a dishwasher and pot scrubber in the kitchen. I think that I started out at fifty cents an hour. I learned a great number of Yiddish words, most of which I think are inappropriate for polite company. I liked being among the people there, even though the work was hard. I took to wearing white clothes on Fridays because that is what everyone there did. I knew nothing about the Jewish religion or why Saturday was so special to them. Once I started working there, however, I was treated a little differently than I had been before by the kids on the bus, like I was left-handed. The father of one of the girls who rode the bus to school was one of the caretakers of the place and I recall that she was considered left-handed, too, even though she had perfect right-handed penmanship.

As I grew older, I learned where this subtle notion about the Jews came from. Judas Iscariot was a Jew, the only disciple from Judea, or so the pundits taught. The betrayer of Jesus was presumed to be, of all of the Apostles, left-handed, inasmuch as he was the most sinister. As I studied world history, I learned of the great atrocities that had been committed against the Jews in the name of Christianity, justified in large measure because the Jews crucified Jesus. I had read the New Testament and knew that the Romans were also directly involved in the Savior’s demise. Why were not Italians treated as roughly as were the Jews? I knew that Jesus and the other eleven Apostles were also Jews by birth and nationality. Why had that not ever been a topic of discussion? Was there more than one kind of Jew? What did modern Jews have to do with the death of Jesus? Were they culpable for the sins of their fathers? If the Jews were so evil in the days of the Jesus and the Apostles, why then did Paul say that the Jews were first in line to have the power of God unto salvation? And who in the world were the Gentiles? These were issues that troubled me for a long time until I came to a knowledge of the truth. Understanding the significance of that final phrase in Romans 1:16 has made all the difference in the world to me. I will attempt to explain in Part 4.

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