“Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet. Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” Matthew 10:14–15
Recall how Jesus harshly condemned the Pharisees for their hardness of heart. In Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 23, Jesus issues seven “woe to you” condemnations of these Pharisees for being hypocrites and blind guides. These condemnations were acts of love on Jesus’ part, in that they had the goal of calling them to conversion. Similarly, in today’s Gospel, Jesus gives instructions to His Twelve about what they are to do if they preach the Gospel in a town and are rejected. They are to “shake the dust” from their feet.
This instruction was given within the context of Jesus sending the Twelve to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” with the commission of preaching the Gospel. At that time, they were to go to those who had already been entrusted with the message of the Law of Moses and the prophets but were to now proclaim that the Kingdom of God has arrived. Jesus was the promised Messiah, and He was now here. And for those of the house of Israel who reject Jesus, they were to be condemned by this prophetic act of the wiping of the dust of their town from the Apostles’ feet.
At first, this can seem somewhat harsh. One can think that patience, ongoing discussions, gentleness and the like would be more effective. And though that may be the case in many of our experiences today, the fact remains that Jesus gave the Twelve this command.
Just like the condemnation of the Pharisees, this prophetic action of wiping the dust from their feet was an act of love. Certainly, the Apostles were not to do this out of an irrational anger. They were not to do so because their pride was wounded by rejection or because of their disdain for these people. Rather, the Apostles were to do so as a way of showing the consequences of the townspeople’s actions. When these towns of the chosen people rejected the promised Messiah, they needed to understand the consequences. They needed to know that by rejecting the messengers, they were rejecting the saving grace of the Gospel.
First of all, it’s important to consider those about whom Jesus was speaking. He was speaking about those who “will not receive” nor even “listen” to the message of the Gospel. These are those who have fully rejected God and His saving message. They, by their free choice, have separated themselves from God and His holy Gospel. They are stubborn, obstinate and hard of heart. Thus, it is in this most extreme case, of being completely closed to the Gospel, that Jesus instructs His Apostles to leave with this prophetic act. Perhaps upon seeing this done, some people would experience a certain sense of loss. Perhaps some would realize they made a mistake. Perhaps some would experience a holy sense of guilt and would eventually soften their hearts.
This teaching of Jesus should also open your eyes. How fully do you receive and listen to the message of the Gospel? How attentive are you to the saving proclamation of God’s Kingdom? To the extent that you are open, the floodgates of God’s mercy flows forth. But to the extent that you are not, the experience of loss is encountered.
Reflect, today, upon your being present in one of these towns. Consider the many ways that you have been closed to all that God wants to speak to you. Open your heart wide open, listen with the utmost attentiveness, be humble before the message of the Gospel and be ready to receive it and to change your life as you do. Commit to being a member of the Kingdom of God so that all that God speaks to you will have a transforming effect upon your life.
My compassionate Lord, Your firmness and chastisements are an act of Your utmost mercy for those who are hard of heart. Please soften my heart, dear Lord, and when I am stubborn and closed, please rebuke me in Your great love so that I will always turn back to You and Your saving message with all my heart. Jesus, I trust in You.