June 14, 2023, 6:00 AM

Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Matthew 9:11-14

How dusty are your feet? Dust on a person’s feet was common in the times of Jesus and St. Francis as it is today. We collect and hold on to things through which we walk, usually without noticing.

This scriptural passage is often included in the lectionary readings along with the passage on Abraham welcoming three visitors to his tent. (Genesis 18:1-4) Abraham calls for the feet of his visitors to be washed as a sign of hospitality. Traveling with open-toed sandals brought with it sand, stones, and dust. It must have been a relief to have the dusty remnants of travel removed from one’s feet.

While washing a fellow traveler’s feet was a common custom in Jesus’ time, Jesus also frequently focused on cultural customs. The focus this time was not on the water of hospitality, but on how to handle the clinging dust of inhospitality.

When Jesus’ followers entered the houses of strangers on their journeys, they hoped to be welcomed and allowed to stay. This would have included having their feet washed. Hence, the visit would be a peaceful one with both guest and host sharing their respect for one another.

If, however, the disciples found the household not worthy of being considered welcoming and peaceful, Jesus instructed the disciples to “shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” This initially sounds like, “YES! Leave them in the dust.” We all know people who disagree with us, and we would like to shake the dust off from our feet on more than simply their doorstep.

At this point in our thinking, the very nature of God and the heart of the Gospel has become distorted. Why would a God, who is only love, want to justify shaking dust on another human being in order to put them down? In fact, that is impossible for God to do.

Our tendency in this world is to see things in terms of good and evil. And, of course, we always want to be on the side of good. By making someone else evil, we feel that we will end up being the good person.

When we are convinced in the rightness of our interpretations, we need to backtrack and look at our assumptions. What does “shake off the dust from your feet” really mean? In the context of the prophets, shaking off the dust from one’s feet had a very positive connotation. When a prophet was venerated, even the dust from his sandals was considered holy.

If the disciples were not welcomed into a house or city, “shaking off the dust from their feet” meant they left in a manner with only their blessings. It was “holy dust.” In shaking the dust off in this manner, their feet AND their souls felt better!

Prayers and Blessings,

Fr. John