In today’s gospel, “As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you. Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words— go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.”
Shaking off the dust from the feet is an symbol of dissociation. Nehemiah 5:13 has a similar act as does Acts 13:51 (as Paul and Barnabus shake the dust of Antioch off their feet and move on to Iconium. In all its forms, one is calling it quits and they want nothing more to do with the place (Luke 10:11 spells it out more fully).
This dissociation may be from an individual household, but it is also possible that a whole town or village will turn against them, as Jesus will accuse Chorazin, Bethsaida and even Capernaum of turning against him in 11:20–24. The prophets had customarily proclaimed God’s judgment against whole communities, but the mention of Sodom (v.15) reminds us of Abraham’s question (Gen 18:22–32) whether the communal wickedness (or in this case rejection of God’s messengers) was on the part of every individual or household in the community, or whether, as in Sodom, there might be a few who stood out against the common attitude. But even the presence of “righteous Lot” (2 Pet 2:6–8) in Sodom was not enough to save the city, and Jesus now takes that exemplary judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24–29) as a model for what awaits those who reject him and his messengers. Indeed their fate will be worse, because the fuller light of the dawning kingdom of God is now being rejected; to reject Jesus’ messengers is thus to reject God and to incur his final judgment (France, 377)
But is there a lesson for us in our relationships? When we have done what is ours to do, can we walk away and leave them with their own choices and decisions? I don’t have an answer, but what would happen if the Apostles stayed there, stuck, with an obstinate and recalcitrant person who despite one’s best efforts will not be changed. These are the instructions concerning salvation. Does it also apply to the family member who won’t be helped and whose behavior is destroying the family?
It is a question I am often asked by parishioners. I have this verse to offer, but an answer to their inquiry – I can only point to one possible way forward. And keep them in prayer
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew – part of The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007)