“Shaking off the dust” – warnings of the Judgment
In today’s Gospel from the Mass (Mark 6:17-13) there is preview of the Judgment of God that is to come for all:
 And he called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.  He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts;  but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.  And he said to them, “Where you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.  And if any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.”  So they went out and preached that men should repent.  And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.
This passage should give all a bit of a pause, for Jesus has some very strong words for those who refuse to listen to His Gospel:
- Jesus has given the disciples a mission: to preach His Gospel and to demonstrate great act of healing in His name.
- At the core of Christ’s Gospel is that “men should repent” (Mark 6:12); this was true when Jesus first gave these instructions to His disciples and it is true today. The first step that all men must make is to repent, to turn away from sin and turn to Christ.
- Jesus makes it clear that the ball is in our court after hearing the Gospel: we are to receive His disciples and His message.
- Jesus is making a conditional statement: “if” people won’t receive and hear, [then] the disciples are to leave and “shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”
- “Shaking off the dust” from one’s feet is a highly symbolic and provocative act in the ancient world. Pious Jews when leaving a Gentile land, would shake off the dust of a Gentile town when leaving to show their separation from Gentile practices.
- The act, which Jesus Himself directs the disciples to take, was a visible warning to those who would reject Christ’s message. In essence: “You have heard the Gospel and refused it. You are in great danger of being condemned, to being shaken off like so much dust, unworthy of Me.” Jesus is warning of being separated from Him, like useless dust.
- Of note, Paul also “shook off the dust against” the Jews who rejected the Gospel in Perga (Acts 13:51).
- In Christ’s words is a warning: the act of “shaking off the dust from one’s feet” is an act of “testimony against” those who reject the Gospel. At the time of Judgment, we will stand before Christ and be judged by the testimony of how we lived our lives. The testimony of our lives, how we loved or did not love, will either be a testimony in our favor, or a testimony against us.
- Christ’s warning recalls His earlier words in Genesis: “Dust thou art and unto dust thou shall return” (Gen 3:19). Our lives are precious and short and Jesus is warning us of our mortality and the Judgment to come.
Jesus is clear and demanding, calling us to repent and turn towards Him.
The question is: will we hear and repent, or will Christ shake our dust off His feet?