Getting back at someone, seeking revenge, and/or being unforgiving has taken a firm root in our fallen nature and our interaction with one another. Living from this perspective also skews our perspective of reality. If someone aligns them self with a particular political party affiliation, holds certain views, is of a particular religious belief, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, more often than not, the dynamic and depth of the person is no longer seen, but a two dimensional caricature of them is assumed. We are very quick to impose labels, which do not even begin to provide the depth, breadth, and wealth of the person.
Though easier to place people in such boxes tied with a neat bow, we are much more dynamic and we have a wider range of beliefs and interpretations than the caricatures that our prejudices and biases project on each other.
Certainly, throughout the Gospel Jesus models and shows us that this is not the way we are to behave toward one another, and Mark records a good way for us to begin in our interactions in today’s Gospel account when he writes: “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them” (Mk 6:10-11).
First and foremost, what Jesus shares with the Twelve, as he sends them off to preach, is that they are to trust in the divine providence of God. God will provide for them on their journey and their itinerant ministry. When they come to a village they are to seek those who are hospitable to them, providing a place of lodging. Once settled they are not to leave if a better, richer, or more prestigious accommodation opens up.
For those who do not welcome or reject their message, the Apostles are not to bear a grudge, they are not to take offense, and/or seek revenge, they are to simply leave “and shake the dust” from their feet. Now this was a common symbol of passing on judgment for Jesus’ time, but the main principle is that they are not to carry the weight of their negative reactions with them. They are to invite and offer, those who accept and are hospitable will receive the blessing they have bestowed, and those who do not, separate themselves from the gift that has been offered.
We can learn a lot from the phrase “shaking off the dust” from the Gospel today because we so often do the opposite. We carry a cloud of negativity that weighs us down because of our unwillingness to forgive, to let go of grudges, or actively ruminate about plotting acts of revenge. When unwilling to let go of our negative reactions, we often walk around in a dust cloud of gloom, looking like a negative Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoon. In actuality, “Despite his outward appearance, [Pigpen] always carries himself with dignity, knowing full well that he has affixed to him the ‘dust of countless ages.’”
Jesus encourages us to resist this destructive trap because it poisons and darkens our souls. God is the ultimate arbiter and judge. We can let go of our grudges and unwillingness to forgive. We can instead trust God’s judgment. There will be an accounting for those participating in injustice, including ourselves. By doing so, we will feel a wonderful weight lifted and see clearer to witness to others.
By deepening our relationship with Jesus, learning from him, learning about and putting our faith into practice, we will better be able to share what we have learned, leading not with judgment and condemnation but with invitation, joy, love, and mercy. In our willingness to dialogue, we answer what we are able, clarify where we can, seek answers to that which we do not know, all the while being open to learning, listening, and above all allowing God to happen. When we receive rejection and/or ridicule, we can just shake off the dust and move on. We need not take offense because our life is not about us, it is about knowing and sharing the will of God.
Photo: Pig Pen, character created by Charles Schulz for his comic strip “Peanuts”, quote from: https://www.peanuts.com/characters/pigpen/