Monday, June 27, 2011

Romans 2: Condemnation for the Gentile first, then the Jew

In God's economy, both judgment and blessing go "first to the Jew, then to the Gentile." Author Paul reverses the order: at the end of Chapter One, he speaks scathing condemnation on the clueless, godless, blind, futile, darkened Gentiles. Picturing in his mind's eyes the Pharisees looking on in smug approval, he turns on them in Chapter Two and in the best tradition of Jesus BLASTS them for their religious pride, stubbornness, and self-seeking.

I read Chapter Two and cannot help but think of the sad wail of every iconic punch-drunk boxer in every pugilistic drama from "On the Waterfront" to "Rocky": "I coulda been a contendah!" That is how Paul sees the rebellious Jews. As Burgess Meredith tells Sylvester Stallone: "you coulda been great - now, you're a bum." Wasted opportunities. Spiritual dissolution. Lost greatness.

I hear the heartcry of Paul for his doubly-enslaved people in this dirge (set to a minor key, 4/4, accent on first beat):

"Where is our Moses, where are our judges, where are our Davids, they're all lying in the grave/
Gone is Elijah, Gone Nehemiah, none are among us who are Mighty to Save/

(change to higher minor key)

"Prophets you sent us, we have ignored them, beatened and tortured and crucified/
while all our princes, just like our conquerers, fawned and stole and killed and lied"

There were of course many godly Jews, both in and (to use the words of Jesus) "not far" from the Kingdom, who wholeheartedly agreed and were praying for divine victory. But how? How can Israel overcome the political power of Appollo, and the just condemnation of their Creed? But God.....

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