Jesus’ attitude towards Gentiles as a reflection of their Ephesians 2:12 state
Just about everyone knows that Jesus (Yeshua), during his ministry, had unflinchingly confronted those among his own, the Jews, who were unfaithful, unjust, unmerciful, ungrateful, self-righteous and hypocritical. Because of that, some have imagined that through this criticism Yeshua had turned on Judaism and his own Jewish people. Some go so far as to claim that the New Testament is filled with antisemitic sentiments. They do so by ignoring the even stronger words of the Jewish prophets that came before him. Jesus didn’t turn his back on Judaism or the Jews – nothing could be farther from the truth. He remained a quintessential Jew of his day, devoted to his nation. In fact, and quite paradoxically, if anyone should be offended having read the New Testament and words of Jesus, it’s the Gentiles, not Jews!
Professor Leander Keck, of the Yale Divinity School, writes that the gospels reflect in Jesus’ own behavior, words and attitude his stance toward Gentiles (as a group, not individuals). Jesus, being a devout Jew, viewed and treated them as strangers, generally avoided them except in a few exceptional circumstances (primarily when children were involved and great humbleness was demonstrated), never entered their homes, never ate with them, and certainly had a very low opinion of their behavior:
…every time Jesus is reported to have mentioned Gentiles, he expresses negative judgment about their ways. They strive for material things (Mt 6:22); they are a closed group, greeting only one another (Mt 5:47); their prayers are heaps of empty phrases because they think that effectiveness requires many words (Mt 6;7). Gentiles arc cited as an example of authoritarian leadership to be avoided (Mt: 10:42-43)…. According to Jesus’ instructions for community discipline, the banned person is to be treated like a Gentile or (despised Jewish) toll collector (Mt 18:7). …[W]hen rebuffing the Syro-Phoenician woman he implied that she was a dog. (Who is Jesus?: history in perfect tense By Leander E. Keck)
That untold millions of Gentiles have embraced Jesus the Jew who scarcely wanted anything to do with them, is in itself a powerful reflection of the truth found in the Gospels. The authenticity of the Jewish Jesus that has been faithfully preserved in the pages of the New Testament has proved to be a powerful magnet that drew Gentiles in:
Even if one argues that these disparaging references to Gentiles were coined by Christian Jews, it is doubtful that the increasingly gentile churches presented them simply to appease the prejudices of their fellow believing Jews or that they reflect Matthew’s alleged anti-Jewish bias. It is much more likely that they were retained because it was agreed that Jesus might well have said such things and probably did. Evidently there was no contrary memory strong enough to censor such words out of the text. In short, it is altogether likely that Jesus had not one good thing to say about Gentiles as a group. Although Gentiles later were attracted to him through the gospel, he was not attracted to them, nor was he the least interested in attracting them to him.
Distressing though this “underside” of Jesus’ particular Jewishness may be, it must be taken on board by any serious consideration of the perfect tense of the Jew Jesus was. At the same time, since historical reconstruction requires balance and proportion, it should not be overlooked that the gospels do not report that Jesus’ message was marked by a polemic against Gentiles either, as if their non-Jewishness were the problem. Whatever may have been the cultural or psychological roots of his disparaging remarks about Gentiles, they appear as the obverse of his passionate commitment to recovering his people’s true identity as Israel. (Who is Jesus?: history in perfect tense By Leander E. Keck, pp 57-58)
Should anyone be surprised at this? After all, Ephesians 2:12 does describe the spiritually sorry state of Gentiles (not just in the past, but today, here and now as well) and that their only hope is found in the Jewish Messiah of Israel:
“…separated from Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without G-d in the world.”