6:28 PM

Mt 10: 14-15 - Julie

“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.”

This ostensibly harsh passage suggests a number of exegetical complications. Are we to understand that another’s proper reception of the words of Christ will be transparent to the those by whom they are brought? Is a failure to immediately respond a sign of a perpetually infertile heart? Weren’t the chosen twelve themselves at first resistant, even vigorously so, to Christ’s message? If these things are not intended, what might be meant by “words” and “receive”?

Hauerwas (106) reads this instruction as an abandonment of the missionary’s own judgment in favor of God’s: that is to say, they defer to the judgment given here by Christ, the judgment to shake the dust if they should not be well-received in a place. It is an injunction that encourages humility, in this sense. Acknowledging the frailty of human nature in acting deferentially, however, Hauerwas notes that it is all to easy to turn this passage into an occasion for self-righteousness. Moreover, he notes that the logic of the passage should turn us from a consideration of whether the receiver has adequately responded, to whether we have adequately witnessed. Our judgment should be of ourselves in the light of the one who sends, Hauerwas insists.

Luz (81, 82), taking a different approach, reads this passage as fundamentally descriptive rather than normative, as though to say “when they reject you, they have rejected eschatological peace.” The effect that follows upon such a rejection is a failure to have God’s peace, which, on the day of judgment, will be a salvific necessity. Thus, Luz insists, the passage does not encourage a pronouncement of judgment (with the missionary as the agent of pronouncement), but rather a judgment is enacted by the rejector upon himself. The missionary does not judge on God’s behalf, he simply proposes: the recipient of the message is judged concomitant with and according to his acceptance or rejection of the message.

Hauerwas and Luz similarly, and importantly, re-route the agency of the judger to the one being judged who receives or rejects, and to God who issues the command to the missionaries. Hauerwas is especially helpful in turning the question to one of the success of the missionary: judgment should be made of how one has witnessed to the recipient, rather than how the recipient receives. Of course, it can’t be the case that we are called to issue these kinds of judgments. And yet, there still seems to be an issue of prudential judgment. How is the missionary to know when to shake the dust of his sandal and to leave the town? How are we to know when we’ve been rejected? Assuming that we are to take this kind of action at times, how are we to judge when?

Comments (2)

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J,
I have asked myself this question many times, especially when I heard missionaries say things like, "We've given them their chance. We should move on."

I don't think we can separate the action of the apostles here from the condition in which they appear as ambassadors of the Kingdom. The rejection is apparently not of the quality of what the apostles say. It is of the embarrassing conditions in which their proclamation of the coming Kingdom of the God Israel hits a town. The Kingdom of the God of Israel is supposed to make Israel secure, while these supposed ambassadors say that its power flows from destitution.

So I don't see how we can shake any dust from our sandals if our witness looks nothing like the weakness of that of the apostles.

Might be good to concretize the judgment that the act of dust-shaking signals. Also, Mt. 18:15-20 seems like an interesting parallel.

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