Shake it off

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There are any number of texts that confuse me deeply. Yes, even as a pastor, even as someone who has studied these texts far too much, I am still confused and disoriented by some texts. Which, right at the onset, I should say I think is good. We are called to wrestle with God, not just understand God.

One of the texts I wrestle with is when Jesus is telling his disciples to go out in to the world and spread the Gospel:

Jesus sent these twelve out and commanded them, “Don’t go among the Gentiles or into a Samaritan city. Go instead to the lost sheep, the people of Israel. As you go, make this announcement: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, and throw out demons. You received without having to pay. Therefore, give without demanding payment. Workers deserve to be fed, so don’t gather gold or silver or copper coins for your money belts to take on your trips. Don’t take a backpack for the road or two shirts or sandals or a walking stick. Whatever city or village you go into, find somebody in it who is worthy and stay there until you go on your way. When you go into a house, say, ‘Peace!’ If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if the house isn’t worthy, take back your blessing. If anyone refuses to welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet as you leave that house or city. I assure you that it will be more bearable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on Judgment Day than it will be for that city. (Matthew 10:5-15 Common English Bible)

I have a hard time with the Judgment Jesus proclaims here. It seems at first pass as though Jesus is saying that if someone doesn’t receive the message of peace and acceptance that he has sent the disciples out to proclaim, then give them a dusty protest and assume that their fate will be the same as Sodom and Gomorrah. That doesn’t sound like the Jesus I know!

To be sure, there is a side of Jesus that offers judgement. There can be no justice without judgement. For us to live in the light of right, we need to know what is wrong. So while Jesus tells us that perhaps it’s not up to us to judge because we’re bad at it, Jesus himself is a perfect judge. And in fact the grace of Jesus Christ would mean nothing if we didn’t stand in judgement first. If we never did anything wrong, we would never need to be forgiven. I get all that.

But this just seems so difficult to wrap my head around. A whole city gets a pronouncement of judgement, just because they didn’t listen? Yikes.

So then I read it again, and thought a little bit differently about this text. Jesus sends the 12 out with a specific mission. Go and tell people that they are loved. Go and tell people that the Kingdom of God is near, and it’s a way better Kingdom than the one Rome has been offering you. Go and tell people that peace is a very real possibility, and that they can have it now. That’s quite a mission!

If it turns out that someone didn’t listen to that message, if the disciples shared it but people didn’t receive it, I can imagine that this would feel a good bit like failure. Perhaps it would be tempting to examine the whole situation in detail, wondering if perhaps a better speaking voice or a flashier PowerPoint would have helped get the point across. Worse yet, this was a mission that Christ himself gave the disciples. If someone doesn’t listen to this message, it wouldn’t just be that they failed. It would be that they failed him.

What is your response to failure? For me, I have a tendency to carry it with me everywhere I go. When I have a conversation that didn’t go well, I have a tendency to spend the rest of the day replaying the conversation in my mind, recreating it and reconstructing it over and over again. Post failure, my mind can become a telestration board like the one they use for Penguins games, slowly replaying the situation and trying to break down the failure.

I tend to carry my failure around with me like dust stuck to my sandals.

Maybe Jesus isn’t pronouncing judgement on these cities after all. Maybe Jesus is telling the disciples that in the work of the Kingdom, failure is a very real and present possibility. Maybe Jesus knows that it is human nature to hang on to our failures for longer than we should. Maybe when he encourages the disciples to shake the dust off their feet, it’s not directed at the people that wouldn’t listen. Maybe it’s directed at the disciples themselves.

As we’ve spent this month talking about resetting habits and routines, perhaps you’ve come across a moment of failure. Perhaps you set about on a daily scripture reading plan, only to loose track of it by Tuesday. Perhaps you committed to coming to church every week, only to have soccer practice get in the way again. Perhaps you wanted to speak better to and about others, but then found yourself in trouble around the water cooler at work.

It’s ok. Shake it off.

We have to move on from these little hiccups and failures, because there are more towns to get to. There are more people who need to hear forgiveness and love. There are more opportunities to keep going, to try again, to live in Christ.

So shake it off. We’ve got more work to do together!

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