Those Wicked Gentiles

When I starting getting serious about God (again) during college, St. Paul was my guy. His conversion story was awesome. I never got over how drastically his life changed, and how sudden, all because he finally listened to God.

So it’s fitting that, on his feast day, we’re going to talk about converts. But I’m not talking Paul right now—let’s talk Jonah.

Jonah? Sure. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, since we read his tale at Mass this week. We know the story. But this reading wasn’t about his stubbornness, or even the whale. It was about what happened when he finally listened to God. It was about the people he witnessed to. The Ninevites. The non-Jews. The Gentiles. a.k.a. people like me.

I’ve been delving into this book Jesus of Nazareth, and there are entire sections on who Jesus preached to. Namely, the Jewish population—not the Gentiles. Because once Israel understood and believed the good news of his coming, then they could reach the rest of the world. That was the job of his disciples, not him.

But to hear of Jonah, back in Old Testament days, and his duty to wicked foreigners? It wasn’t God who spoke to the Gentiles; it was His people. Some of the Jews listened. Some of them didn’t. Some of them, like Jonah, listened eventually. But it was Jonah who struck me. We know that he was called to travel outside Israel, but I never considered what that meant. He traveled to Assyria, to those Gentiles, and no wonder he didn’t want to. They had a reputation, and it wasn’t a good one.

Paul was the same. He didn’t just not listen, he literally put Christians to death. He had to be beaten down and blinded to finally turn to Jesus, and even then he stumbled around for a while until he regained his sight. So, yeah, God’s chosen people had a job to do. They not only had to evangelize, they had to leave the comfort of the promised land to do it.

Go out of your comfort zone. Preach God to people who don’t know Him. Save them. The Ninevites repented. And Paul started churches in Greece and Asia and wherever. Thank God they did. Because without them, the Gentiles would have no hope. People like me.

2 Thessalonians 2:14-15

To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.

Being raised non-denominational brings certain assumptions when reading the Bible. As is also the case when being raised however it is a person is raised—we read based upon what we know. Or what we understand to be true. It’s difficult to change a perspective, to see things through an unbiased lens. When I started to read the Word outside the preconceived notions of a denomination (or lack there of), it was hard.

There are things I was taught to interpret a certain way, and verses I naturally glanced over without a second thought. The introduction and conclusions to Paul’s letters are one of those things. “Praise be to God,” “Live a good and honorable life,” etc. More specifically, “Follow the traditions we taught you.” This seems easy enough: Live by our teachings. From a Bible-only religious education, this is easily glanced over. But once you start to learn of Sacred Tradition, it has a whole new meaning.

Paul’s not just talking about “being good” and honoring God. He’s talking of the traditions passed down from the apostles, both verbally and by letter, in a time when there was no written Gospel to refer to. They depended upon one another to learn the Truth. And this is the beginning of the Church as we know it today. Of its Tradition, entwined with what we now understand through written Gospel.

Obviously, maybe. Sola scriptura is fine and admirable, but it leaves gaps and questions. What did we do before the Bible was compiled? Was Christianity an unorganized chaos, simply waiting for the direction of a written book? Not at all. The proof is right there in Bible itself—people were being baptized. They were being saved. And they were doing it through Tradition, through the newly-formed teachings of the Church.

It wasn’t a bunch of unorganized guys who created Christianity. It started with Jesus, who taught his disciples, who in turn taught their disciples. And so on down the line, for thousands of years. This had to start somewhere. It started with Peter’s preaching, and with Paul’s letters, and with the brief and wonderful ministry of Jesus Christ Himself.

John 2:18–19

The Jews then said to him, “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

During one of my RCIA classes, we discussed the timeline of the gospels. Not chronologically, in regards to history, but when they were physically written down. It was somewhere between 70 and 90 A.D., i.e. after the second temple had been destroyed.

It wasn’t the gospels I began contemplating at that point, but the temple itself. I kept coming back on this timeline. I considered this seemingly insignificant fact—that the written Gospel didn’t exist until after the temple’s destruction—and I knew that it was no accident. Jesus, in His infinite wisdom, would’ve known this too.

In John 2, right before the verses above, Jesus was livid. The temple had been turned into a marketplace. He was so angry that he literally flipped tables. He preached of the temple’s destruction, with the promise to rebuild it in three days. The Jews thought he was a crazy man. But we know now that he spoke of himself, not the physical building.

The physical temple was destroyed, about a hundred years later. And it was never rebuilt.
On my drive home, I kept on circling back to this point. And God revealed some interesting revelations:

 1) Jesus is the temple. It says so in John 2:21 (“But he spoke of the temple of his body”). Jesus specifically said the temple would be rebuilt in three days—and so he was. But to take this further:

 2) The second temple was destroyed. And it hasn’t been rebuilt. When you look at it, we’re still in the “three days” period. And we will continue to be so, until the end times. “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” (Revelation 21:2) A new Jerusalem, after the old has been destroyed. A rebuilding. Fun fact: this new city will be a perfect cube—equal in height, width, and length—just like the holy of holies in the Jewish Temple.

The Gospels couldn’t have been recorded while the temple still stood. At that point, the people wouldn’t understand—how could such a magnificent structure be rebuilt in three days, let alone fall? It’s only when the building comes down, and there seems to be no hope left, that Gospels can be written down for all to see—during this time of no hope. When that physical building didn’t magically respawn after three days, it was obvious that Jesus had been talking of something—or someone—besides the temple.

The temple will be rebuilt, just not how everyone expected it to. That building’s destruction is proof of Jesus’s divinity. We’re not talking about just a physical structure. Jesus is still the temple. Not only in his resurrection, but in his return as well.