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Shake the Dust off your Feet
Matthew 9:38-10:15
by Rev. Frank Schaefer

Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.

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. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

What we just read are instructions Jesus gave to his 12 disciples before sending them out to minister - by themselves.

I imagine that might have been a little scary for them, don’t you? It was like Jesus was saying: “ok, you’ve seen me do it, now its your turn.”

Go and heal like you’ve seen me do, go and tell them about the Kingdom of God just like you heard me preach it.

What was that message again? Something along the lines of: Proclaim good news to the poor that God has listened, that God cares and that there will be relief.

And to the oppressed and marginalized, tell them that God has seen their plight, that God is on their side and that there will be justice, God’s justice. And there will be liberation from the yoke of the oppressors.

Is it just me or does this sound like a democratic platform? You know….offer healing to the sick (affordable healthcare for all), preach good news to the poor (justice and equality for all, a livable minimum wage….)

And then Jesus says these words about “shaking the dust off their feet” when they are not met with hospitality.

What does that actually mean? How does that translate into modern English? “Shake the Dust of Your Feet”

Eugene Peterson translates this phrase in his translation, the Message, with “shrug your shoulders.” [1]

Hmm. To me, shrugging of shoulders indicates a “whatever” attitude. I’m not sure that Jesus meant to say that.

The Dictionary by Farlex interprets this phrase to mean: “leave a place indignantly or disdainfully” Which expresses quite the opposite of an “I don’t care” attitude. [2]

The symbolic “shaking off of dust” could therefore be more correctly understood as a “casting off the dust of your feet against them as a testimony” as one theologian, put it. [3] This makes sense because of Jesus’ statement about the judgment at the end of our reading.

So, if the phrase really means “be indignant,” what are we supposed to be indignant about?

Let’s not forget, Jesus message was a message of justice, liberation and peace. The oppression and marginalization of people at Jesus’ time was widespread and rampant.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Does this make you think about what’s going on in our nation right now? The inequality, marginalization seems widespread, though it may be not as overt as it was in Jesus’ time.

Nonetheless, underneath the surface we find that racial profiling, discrimination and oppression is apparently a daily reality.

And once in a while, like in George Flyod’s case, it bubbles to the surface. But what about all those cases that we will never know about because there is no camera footage?

So, when Jesus tells his disciples “shake the dust off of your feet” at those who don’t receive you and God’s message of love and justice, he is talking about a prophetic gesture.

Jesus is saying to his disciples: “don’t think that everybody will receive our message well.” There are those that will persecute you like they persecuted the prophets of old.”

But you must tell them about the evils of our society and that God is fed up with the injustice. God will right the wrongs! Tell them whether they want to hear it or not.

And if they get hostile, shake the dust off your feet as a sign of righteous indignation.

The sad part is that even many of our white churches are not ready to receive God’s message and messengers of justice.

Many of the so-called evangelicals subscribe to a different gospel, perhaps the gospel according to Donald Trump. In that gospel version walls are being hailed as a means of salvation and racial inequality is swept under the rug as fake news. In that version the Black-Lives-Matter movement is “defused” with the slogan: “All Lives Matter.” Doesn’t that seem more like a white supremacy gospel edition?

But let’s not point fingers, because we, in the white mainline churches, are struggling too. Our words may be right on, but are our actions?

Do we really speak out when it’s uncomfortable and risky? Are we willing to give up on our white privilege when it comes to making room for people of color and giving them the opportunities they deserve as human beings?

So, what should we do to really proclaim God’s message of justice? what should we do? Jesus says: speak up even at the risk of being persecuted. What does speaking up look like in your neighborhood, in your community, at your job site or at your school?

I just talked to a friend of mine who is serving as a youth pastor in a mainline church. He shared that he conspired with the children’s minister to order and hang up a Black-Lives-Matter banner in a prominent place in the church-- without clearing it with his pastor or congregation. He suspected that there would be resistance to it, but this was such an important matter to him and his colleague that they are willing to risk their jobs.

Now that, to me, is the kind of prophetic action that we need to engage in, and if my friend’s church should dismiss him, then he should shake the dust of his feet and go forth with the righteous indignation that God’s justice will prevail.

Are we willing to be prophets for God? Are we willing to become indignant, angry and passionate about the injustice that is committed against God’s beloved children, our brothers and sisters of color? Amen.


[1] Eugene Peterson, The Message, NavPress , 2002.
[2] Dictionary by Farlex,
[3] Joseph Smith, Book of Commandments, 1833.