If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Matthew 10:14
As I was thinking about today's Gospel lesson, I couldn't help but pause at this seemingly un-Jesusian instruction. I understand that shaking the dust from one's sandals as a sign of contempt was, in that time and place, some pretty serious street theater. Where's the "God of second chances" here? What happened to forgiving seventy times seven, and going back for the lost sheep, and "Father, forgive them," and all that other grace stuff?
In going through the process of "What does it say?"-"What does it mean?"-"What does it mean for me right now?" I came across a couple of commentaries that helped me better wrap my head around this passage.
The people Jesus seems to be targeting here are not folks who just don't get the Reign of God -- heck, most of the time the disciples themselves (and, by extension, the rest of us) don't get it. No; they're the people who, in some deep-seated, unequivocal way, don't want to get it, ever. They're people who have, for whatever reason, declared a final NO to God's YES to them. The shaking-off-of-the-dust is simply an acknowledgment of, and exclamation point to, the rejection of God that has already taken place.
Does this scenario exclude the possibility that, sometime in the future, these same individuals might experience a powerful metanoia moment that opens their hearts to the good news of God's redeeming, reconciling work? I don't think so; but in this story Jesus is concerned about the now: You are here. So is God. Deal.
And, in addition to this -- I think Jesus is also giving his disciples permission to walk away from the hard cases, before the hard cases break them. I think that's an important point for those of us who try valiantly, sometimes, to get others to understand God's redeeming, reconciling grace, only to get dope-slapped again and again and again by hateful people; not clueless, struggling people, mind you, but literally hateful people who have unequivocally rejected the good news of God's love and acceptance, who speak and act in ways completely oppositional to the way of Christ. Walking away from someone doesn't mean hating that person; it means...just that; walking away; stating our case, commending the situation to God and moving on. Sometimes, sadly, I think that's the "next right thing" we can do.