Choosing to shake the dust off your feet

Choosing to shake the dust off your feet

The Bible covers so many interesting topics and, from time to time, I receive questions about what a certain verse or phrase might mean. I always am intrigued when I study the question and try to determine what I feel the Scripture is saying. I received an interesting one this past week: “What does it mean in the Book of Matthew when we are told to shake the dust off of our feet?”

The first place I find the verse is Matthew 10:14, but I was surprised to find it listed several different times in the New Testament. I have found in past study that when the Lord told us something, He always means it, but when He wants to put unusual emphasis on it, He will repeat it and sometimes rephrase it, giving us multiple illustrations. The command also appears in Luke 9:5, and in the Matthew 10 account, Jesus clarifies His meaning. It is also mentioned again in Mark 6:11.

In each case, the command is spoken by Jesus to His disciples when He sent them out two by two to witness for Him. In Mark 6:11, we read, “And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off of your feet as a testimony against them.” In the Matthew 10 rendering, He added, “Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the Day of Judgment than for that town (Verse 15).

Several scholars I have read said that the shaking the dust off reference is somewhat akin to our more modern phrase of, “I have done what I could. I wash my hands of it.” Shaking the dust off the feet is a symbolic indication that one has done all that can be done in a situation and therefore carries no further responsibility for it. In the scriptural examples we read, Jesus was telling His disciples that they were to preach the gospel to everyone. Where they were received with joy, they should stay and teach. But where the message was rejected, they had no further responsibility. They could walk away with a clear conscious knowing they had done all that they could do in the circumstances that were prevailing. In many cases, the shaking off of the dust has a finality to it that indicates the case is closed.

I only remember one time in my younger days of Christian training where I heard that verse quoted and put into practice. Later in my life, I have two clear remembrances of having to shake the dust off of my own feet and moving on to other projects. If we stand firm in our beliefs, reach out to others, go the extra mile, help where we can, and the person to whom we are reaching out refuses to hear or change, we are free to move on. Of course, we can still pray for that individual and certainly hope that he or she will come to salvation, repentance or right living.

I have learned over the years that we are responsible for our obedience to God and His word, but we are not responsible for the results of that obedience. There are times when we cannot do any more. We must shake the dust off of our feet and move on to other work and other people.

When this truth hurts the most, in my way of thinking, is when we love that individual or family member, co-worker, neighbor, classmate or friend with a genuine, heartfelt love. We want to see him change for the good of himself, his family, his friends and his community. However, if his actions continually hurt others and eventually, wreck and ruin his own life, it is sad and causes pain to all concerned. We leave our contact knowing that God can and often will reach this person. Our work is done, and we move on to others.

God help each of us to search our hearts at the beginning of this new year to determine if there are people in our lives that are hurtful, unforgiving, do not intend to change, and who we should leave in the past. We want to be loving and kind, but there are times when that is not enough. I have heard all of my life that as long as there is breath, there is hope, and I do believe that, but it may not include us in the equation. God bless us in 2017 as we serve Him and others.

Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.