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Leaving on more than a rude gesture: Mark 6:1-13

3304203189_4592c872d9_oOn 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.




Dawn Leger

About Dawn Leger

I am a priest in the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, having served in Stouffville, Ontario. I think preaching is a profound and great privilege granted to us by God and our Church. I love the reading, the writing, the proclaiming, the dissecting and the dialogue. I also love to cook, sing, read and laugh, in no particular order.

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13 Responses to Leaving on more than a rude gesture: Mark 6:1-13

  1. Naomi Miller

    My lectionary discussion group connected this with Naaman the leper in 2 Kings, and his two mule-loads of earth- but the opposite of that.

    There is some wisdom and discernment to be done around what to take and what to leave. I like the criteria you point to here. What will lead to proclamation, and freedom and healing for those we meet in the next place?

  2. Wish I had read this 25 years ago!

  3. Dawn Leger

    I hope what I’m about to say doesn’t pertain directly to you, Barbara.

    It has occurred to me over the rest of the week that shaking the dust is also a healthy thing for those ending relationships. I read a great Nina Simone quote this week on facebook-where else?

    “You have to learn to get up from the table when love is no longer being served.”

    Whether it be marriage, family, friendships or work relationships, we’ve all had to leave the table.

  4. We are not given that option of getting up from the table when it comes to marriage, it is till death do you part ,God hates divorce. We are called to love them no matter what . It is like the story of a pastor who was listening to man for his advise The man said I am having problems with my wife ,the pastor said Just love her The man said he did not love his wife anymore ,so the pastor said move in next door, we are called to love our neighbour. He said ,no you don’t understand I can’t stand her ,I hate her ,I don’t want her around. The pastor said we are called to love our enemies. Love is your only solution.

    • Dawn Leger

      Tony, I suggest you take a look at our marriage canon. As you will see, we make great exceptions, based in Scripture, as Jesus and Paul did, in understanding that divorce can not always be avoided. We recognize that sometimes the greatest act of love is to say goodbye.

      For example, note this excerpt from the preamble to the liturgy we provide “At the Ending of a Marriage” which you can find in Occasional Celebrations, an authorized liturgical resource from General Synod:

      “The Anglican Church of Canada understands marriage to be a
      life-long, binding relationship of love, commitment, and support. At
      the same time the church recognizes that some marriages falter and
      die. The present practice of the church reflects belief that Christians
      should support and minister to those whose marriages have failed,
      both during the time of distress and grief which accompanies divorce,
      and later if they seek to marry again. This practice is consistent with
      the ministry of Jesus who “did not break a bruised reed or quench a
      smouldering wick,” (Mt 12.20) but who met people in their alienation
      and brokenness and offered healing and wholeness.”

      • Yes but mans laws are not Gods laws. Man is very good at finding loopholes to what God has commanded. Jesus never bent the rules when it came to the law,if he did that would make him a transgressor of the law and nullify him on being our savior.

        • Dawn Leger

          I respect that your position comes with Scriptural basis, as does mine and the position of the Anglican Church of Canada. But on one point you are incorrect.

          Jesus bent the rules all the time.

          We read about one such instance last week, his contact with a woman who had been menstruating. Most of his contacts with women were against the rules, as was his work on the Sabbath.

          Jesus’s interpretation of the law bent the rules and always erred on the side of compassion, inclusion and justice. And he remains our Saviour. That is what we model in our position on marriage and divorce.

  5. According to Margaret I seem to bring the dust home no matter where I have been. When I finally retired at 72 years old… they couldn’t see me for the dust !

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