When Jesus commissioned me to learn the heart of the Gentiles, he was making the best of a bad situation. Neither Jesus nor my parents wanted me to go on my odyssey, which I refer to now as “Jude’s Folly,” but I had been relentless on my insistence to venture forth on my own. They finally gave up on me and let me go. So, to put a good face on it for my parents, Jesus gave me my commission. What I didn’t know then was how important this assignment would turn out to be. One day, in fact, it would serve me well when I became a disciple of Jesus and then Paul. What did I learn? To begin with, in the most human way, Gentiles are similar to Jews: they can be kind, honest, deceitful, and mean. They are, like Jews, capable of great evil. Where they differ from Jews is in their capricious and carefree attitude when killing their foes. Their proscriptions against murder are not based upon moral imperatives as in our religion. There are no Ten Commandments for Gentiles and only the most vague notion of heaven and hell. I accepted these traits as human if not sinful traits. What drove me to despair at times was their attitude toward our religion. The major reasons for their dislike and distrust was the very nature of our God. The Jewish God, after all, was invisible and unforgiving. He was distant and mysterious. Pagans, of course, were also critical of their own gods. Though superstitious, they appeared to have little or no belief at all. Despite their contempt for their own religions, however, they at least knew what their gods looked like. All the Roman and Greek gods, except the unknown god, looked like mortal men and women. The Egyptian pantheon was filled with all manner of animal and bird headed gods. It also seemed inconceivable to Gentiles that we had only one deity to worship when they had a choice between hundreds of gods.
My biggest mistake was when I attempted to explain God. The Lord is, after all, unknowable and appears to be, himself, capricious. This became evident to them when, during our campfire conversations, I told them about my people’s heroes. When, during our fireside chats, I told stories about our scriptural heroes, they had mixed feelings. On the one hand, they could admire a brave man like King David, and yet used the example of Joshua’s murder of women and children as a reason for flatly not accepting our harsh god. Other reasons, along with God’s invisibility and apparent meanness, were our religions restrictions on food and demand for circumcisioin. One of their favorite meats was pork, and they ate, with relish, a list of nasty, unscaled, crawling things. The very notion of mutilating their private part was likewise repugnant to them. So I gave up finally in my effort to share with them what I believed. Every once in awhile I would slip and quote a passage, but I tried very hard to fit in with my Gentile friends.
As I have recorded in my third volume, the Lord gave me strength I didn’t know I had. During one point in our journey, I was able, in a dream state, to kill six men who attacked our camp. In the end, though, I was never completely accepted by most of the men. I was, in the words of Apollo and Ajax, “that wet-behind-the-ears-Jew.” I could never shake this label off. Through great hardships, which included being captured by bandits and placed on the slave auction block, I saw the very worst of the Gentiles before being rescued by a rich Pharisee. What struck me as ironic was that the man who liberated me considered me tainted because of my association with the desert bandits, yet most of the Gentiles I had known accepted my Jewish eccentricities. They joked about it me but never condemned me as my Pharisee benefactor had. In hindsight, as I look back, I realize I had learned something very important about the Gentile mind. They had no fixed, preconceived notions about religion. They could, with the right message, be reached. Jesus knew this. I sensed even then, long before I set forth as an apostle, that Gentiles were looking for something to fill a void in their lives. I saw it in their eyes when I told them about our belief that there was an afterlife for the faithful, the one thing about my religion I knew the least about. Their gods of stone and wood had failed them, and yet the god of the Torah and as related by the prophets seemed impossible for them to understand. When the simple message of the Way was presented to them, they would have no religious baggage to sift through, as did the Jews. They would flock to Jesus message of redemption and promise of paradise. On my journey to Antioch, however, I would never have believed such a thing. They were the most uncouth and undisciplined people I had ever met. I could not have believed that some of them would remain friends with me for the rest of my life and four of them would one day become followers of the Way.