Dust and feet
In today’s Gospel reading, which is the one I want to focus on this morning, there is a declaration made by Jesus which I have found troubling since I first heard it. It’s that bit about ‘wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them’
In Matthew’s account (today’s reading was from Luke) it goes even further ‘Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.’
This reminds me of my introduction to my first ever parish where the Rector announced to the congregation – Alastair comes as Curate to our community, and we hope that as he comes to us he will bring peace, and that peace will rest on us – and that he won’t turn away and say ‘Sodom’…
Which got a slightly scandalised laugh from the congregation! Which was the point and broke the ice somewhat…
But these harsh words seem so odd from the mouth of Jesus – what is he saying? Is he really giving up on those who do not hear the message on first blush – is he really consigning to judgement those who do not accept the disciples as they share this message of the good news. It certainly doesn’t sound like good news if there are people excluded, for whatever reason, from the party!
I suspect that these words were said by Jesus – as most scholars agree that the most authentic parts of scripture, most likely to be accurately recorded and passed on, are the difficult bits – the bits we find uncomfortable. The bits that the early Church would find uncomfortable as they sought to bring all into the life of Christ. The logic goes that if they made a point of recording it and passing it on even though it’s difficult then the chances are it did actually come from Jesus as if it was from elsewhere they would have been more likely to edit it out.
So we have these words, but like all faithful followers we are called to question. What does this actually mean? Who was it said to and why? What is the meaning behind and within these statements…
I think that these words are less a judgement on non-believers than an encouragement to us. They remind us that not all will hear and accept the message of faith – that it is right not to browbeat, cajole or force people into accepting our way of seeing the world. Jesus is simply acknowledging that some won’t get it, and won’t want to get it. As for the consequences of this, it is for God to sort out, not for us to pronounce judgement.
As an aside, the comment about Sodom and Gomorrah is about the lack of hospitality shown by those cities – something that is considered sacrosanct in middle eastern nomadic societies where survival is often dependent on supporting and caring for one another. Throughout scripture we are shown the importance of hospitality and welcome, including the famous statement by the author of the letter to the Hebrews “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
And as for shaking off the dust. I think this was for those first disciples, and indeed is for us, a comment about not carrying with us our failures, or rejection, or negativity. Let nothing hinder us from our sharing of the life of Christ – do not be distracted. When the disciples were sent out with nothing, not even staff, bag, bread, money or a change of tunic, they were being encouraged to depend only on God, to strip away anything that might give a false sense of security, anything that might possibly make them think about anything other than what we call the ‘kingdom’ or the ‘reign’ of God. This is to be something that is so focussed, so intentional, so much at the heart and the foundation of what we as Christ followers are about that we are to let nothing distract us. Not even our failures.
Which should give us cause to think again about those things which might be distracting us from our calling to live and to be the good news to this world. I think that we are too comfortable, too distracted – and I certainly include myself in this. We are rarely confronted with our calling to give of ourselves to others. From that place of knowing ourselves loved, called, graced and embraced should come hearts and minds and lives which are consumed with the love of God. And from this spiritual foundation comes our calling to be and to bring the Good news – we are called in word and deed to proclaim God’s radical message, love for all, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, confronting the powerful and abusive, bringing comfort for the afflicted – living out the values of God’s kingdom and seeking to make those values real in our own spiritual community and in the community around us.
It’s a scary calling. It’s a spiritual calling. It’s a shared calling. It is something we as a community are being called to – this isn’t one of those ‘what are you doing because it all depends on you’ callings, but to ask what our part is within a community that seeks to live and share these values. Perhaps our calling is to pray, to give of our time, talents or money , perhaps our calling is to volunteer, perhaps our calling is to listen to where God is leading us and to respond.
Whatever our calling, the question that comes back to us is this – what do we cling to or carry around like dust on our feet that prevents us from fully entering into this wonderful, distressing, challenging, transforming life which Jesus calls us to and what do we need to leave behind that we too might be a community which is living the power of the spirit in transforming this world.