Saturday, July 6, 2024

Shaking the dust from our feet

Readings: Ezekiel 2.1-5 and especially...

He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.    Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send 

them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered 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 to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’  So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.


The thing about the Good News, is that it is not Good News for everyone.  It is not good news for rich people, for example – because it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.  It’s not good news for racists, because loving your neighbour, of every nationality, is at the core of the good news.  It’s not good news for homophobes, because the good news tells us to remove the plank from our own eye before looking at the speck in someone else’s.  The good news is not good news for the mighty and the powerful, because they will be put down from their seats, while the humble and the meek are exalted.  The good news is not good news to the prosperity gospel preachers, who promise riches, healings and reward, because Jesus said that following him is like carrying a cross of execution – and that all men will hate us because of him.  The good news is not good news for those who make their living by scamming and stealing from vulnerable people – because they are putting their faith in things that will rust and decay, instead of the eternal things which will last.

Which is why Jesus knew, as he sent his disciples out with good news of the coming kingdom, that some of the towns and villages would reject his message.  It’s why Jesus commanded his disciples to shake the dust from their feet as they leave such towns – as a testimony against them.  It is pointless to keep declaring good news to those who refuse to hear.  Doing so is like casting pearls before swine.  Jesus himself had experienced first-hand what it was like when people rejected his message.  In his own home town, he found that his ability to perform miraculous signs was severely restricted, because a prophet is never welcome in his home town.  Hostility to the gospel stifles the gospel, and Jesus knew that he had to tell his disciples to move on, lest hostility overwhelmed them too.

The good news of Jesus is good news for everyone – but not everyone will receive it.  Many will be unable to re-imagine their lives remoulded by the good news.  They will be fearful of losing their status, or their power, or their wealth, or their inalienable right to criticise the life-choices of others or to stigmatise those they do not like.  They will be fearful of giving up the anger they feel towards those who are not like them, and the perceived threat they feel to their way of life.  

But what was this good news that Jesus sent his disciples to tell?  Too often, these days, the good news is reduced to the simple notion that ‘Jesus died for your sins; believe this and you’ll go to heaven’.  But we are wise if we note that when Jesus sent his disciples out to preach good news, his atoning death was way off in the future.  He had not yet taught his disciples that his death was coming, let alone that it was the core of the good news.  So if it wasn’t the good news of an atoning death, what good news was it?  

It was, of course, the good news of an advancing kingdom.  It was the real possibility that God’s way of living could replace humankind’s way of life.  It was good news, and blessing, for the poor, for the meek, for those who mourn, for peacemakers.  

The word ‘Gospel’ – which means good news of course – was well known to the people of Jesus time.  The Romans used it to announce the birth of their next Emperor.  They used it to announce the accession to the throne of that Emperor.  Augustus Caesar was even described as a god who was the saviour of the world! To the Romans, the coming of a new warlord, exercising supreme power over the world they had conquered was good news.    It meant that the wealthy merchants and weapons-makers around the emperor could keep their snouts in the trough – growing richer and richer while the poor grew poorer and poorer.  

So, the people of Jesus time would have known exactly what the word Gospel meant.  It meant more poverty, it meant ever higher taxes, ever-more punishing interest on loans from the rich, it meant more work-slavery.  And it meant more money in the purses of the arms-dealers and merchants.  It was good news only for the elite, in fact.  

But Jesus offered a new Gospel.  He offered a topsy-turvy upside-down dream for the world.  A dream in which the poor were lifted up, and peacemakers were called children of God.  Early death, through war or poverty, was a constant reality for the people of Jesus time.  But because of the hope of eternal life Jesus offered, even those who mourned could be comforted with the promise of life that goes on for ever in the house of Jesus’ father.  Jesus would save the world by being, in every conceivable way, the opposite of a Roman emperor.  Instead of war and conquest, Jesus brought peace and reconciliation.  Instead of the binding chains of acquisition and wealth, Jesus brought simplicity and sharing.  Instead of hatred for those who were not of one’s nation, Jesus offered reconciliation and love for every neighbour.

But this vision, this dream, this proclamation of how things could be for every man and woman – this was a threat to the war-makers, the wealthy elites, and for those who lived sumptuous lives on the back of the poor.  It was a threat to those religious leaders who liked to teach their flock who to hate – who loved to spout the narrative of ‘them and us’ – Jew versus Gentile, Jew versus Samaritan, Jew versus Roman, Jew versus Greek.   So Jesus told his disciples to shake the dust from their feet wherever the good news was rejected.  They were to go where the ground was fertile and ready to receive the seed of the Kingdom of God.

It is too soon to say whether the new Government we elected this week will turn out to be on the side of the weak, the stranger, the poor, the sick and the outcast.  It is for you to judge whose side the last Government was on.  What is clear, however, is that we who call ourselves followers of a different Lord, a higher authority, the King of Love – we have the same responsibility as those first disciples, sent out by that same Lord, to declare good news that was worth hearing – a dream worth sharing, a possibility worth prophesying.  

But, when the mighty and the powerful reject the message of our Lord; when homophobes keep obsessing about what loving, faithful people do in the privacy of their home; when racists continue to rant about people who are not like them - we will not continue shouting, fruitlessly from the side-lines.  We will not cast our pearls before swine.  We will shake the dust from our feet, and go where the ground is fertile, and ready to receive the good news of God.  We’ll reach out, by our example, to the lonely, the lost, the poor, the suffering and the outcast – to assure them that God is indeed good, and so is his news.  Amen.

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