On my last post a commenter astutely pointed out that I was in error about Jesus’s relationship with his family according to the writer of the gospel of Mark. In this Sunday’s gospel, we get a very different picture from the relationship that Jesus has with, say, his mother in the Gospel of John.
Being summer and low attendance one could have fun talking about the fact that Mark identifies siblings of Jesus and talk about bone boxes and such things. I would not belittle such academic pursuits. In fact, the focus on Jesus’s family gives us a unique insight into Jesus as human, one who was raised in a particular tradition and context. If we are going to claim Jesus as fully human, then we must acknowledge how his humanity was formed by his upbringing and perhaps continues to be formed throughout his ministry.
There is a lot more going on here than Jesus’s last words of wisdom. However I have long reflected on the image of shaking the dust off one’s feet. I have served many parishes as a lay minister and as a priest. Most I left well. Some I didn’t. When clergy enter into Fresh Start, we often reflect on this passage and ask questions like:
- Was I ready to leave?
- Is there forgiveness I need to offer?
- How do we enter a new place?
- How do we know we belong?
There is a satisfaction in this passage. How many of us have left a job, a project or, maybe, even a church as a cleric or a layperson and had the temptation to make a rude gesture as we walked out the door?
I remember my last day as a student in one church and moving boxes from my office to my car while my supervisor, the secretary and a warden chatted and laughed away in the lobby. When I was finished and went to say good-bye, the secretary acknowledged that maybe they should have helped. I left saying good-bye with a smile and a lot of grace. And then I quite proudly (and maybe a little rudely) showed the bottoms of my feet to them as I walked down the concrete steps and drove away.
Over the years I have come to understand the image of shaking the dust off one’s feet differently, and it has to do with what we choose to carry with us.
If you have ever been to a sandy beach, you know that no matter how much you wipe and shake your feet or shower yourself, you will still track home sand. It’s the same if you are walking down a dusty road. We don’t want it making a mess in our cars, or itching between our toes. By shaking our feet, we are leaving the dust/dirt/sand that belongs in that place there, taking as little of it with us as possible.
When God calls us into a place, whether it be a move across the country, or a step up the corporate ladder, or a new endeavour altogether, it does not come with the promise of success. The Spirit calls us to be faithful and obedient in a certain place and time. Sometimes it will garner great pride and success. Other times it will burden us with failure and pain. And one way or the other the Spirit will call us to leave.
When we figuratively shake the dust off our feet, whether we are leaving a good or bad experience, we are saying a few things
- Thank you to the Spirit for leading us to this place, for those who have supported us and the opportunity to leave it
- We trust those who the Spirit has called to remain to carry on the work to which they have been called
- We acknowledge our anger and pain and speak truth where it will be heard
- We leave the burden of our regrets here and refuse to carry them on to the next endeavour
Jesus describes the shaking of the dust as a testimony against those who have rejected the Word of God. Sometimes simply the act of leaving a toxic situation is testimony enough.
Have a look at your feet. How much dust are you carrying around? How many places? How many regrets? How many unforgiven hurts?
I’ll end with what could perhaps be an interesting spiritual exercise. Is there a pair of shoes or boots that you wore regularly in a place you left but are struggling to let go of? Maybe it was a uniform or another item of clothing. Pull it out, thank God for the lessons you have learned, make a promise to forgive, and then dispose of your item. Maybe burn it, or throw it in a dumpster, or toss it in the ocean*.
However you do it, perhaps this Sunday is your reminder to let something go. And then read the last line of the passage, “So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
There is more in store for you. God’s work in you is complete when you say your final farewell to this earthly life. God has much for you to do, too much for you to be burdened by the past. Shake those feet.
*I can’t imagine that the number of shoes tossed in the ocean as a direct result of this post will contribute in any significant way to the pollution of our planet, but if this article goes viral readers may want to think twice.