There is a lot of material in the Bible that makes me uncomfortable. Like most people I know, I don't want anything to do with, say, the literal words of psalms that express exultation in the violent defeat of enemies. The narratives of military victories don't warm my heart or inspire me to action.
But I do find it possible to read and pray with many of those words in the context of the battles I fight in my own life, and the war I wage ~ sometimes, anyway ~ against depression, sadness, grief, and desolation. And in the context of enemies such as poverty and disaster and warfare and hunger and homelessness.
This past week I've been thinking, for no particular reason that I can ascertain, about Jesus's advice to the disciples whom he sends out on a journey to share the good news of the imminent arrival of the kingdom of heaven and to engage in some striking activity of care and healing.
"If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words," he says, "shake off the
dust from your feet as you leave that house or town."
I'm not at all convinced that Jesus wants us to walk away from others under any circumstances.
But I've been wondering whether this command might make more sense if applied to those personal or cultural demons we find so implacable.
Depression and sadness are enticing, but they are not welcoming. They will drag you in the doorway and suffocate you. Hunger and homelessness call for radical response, not accommodation.
"Shake the dust off" sounds like a quick solution, the kind that we know doesn't work. The dust, or the sand, as I tend to think if it (hence the image) -- it sticks. Even when you spray your feet thoroughly upon your return from a beach walk, you will track sand across the kitchen floor, and you'll find small grains buried in the upholstery and in your sheets. You can't just shake it off.
But in the long term?
Can we shake off the personal and worldwide conditions that torment us?
Maybe he's saying: Don't make peace with them. Don't sit down and have a drink with them. Do what it takes to move yourself, and everyone else, beyond them.