“Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” Matthew 10.11-15.
Jesus is here sending out the Twelve to “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10.6) — Jews like themselves, but Jews who have not yet believed in Jesus as the Messiah or begun to follow him. And the instructions Jesus gives are both illuminating and astonishing.
First, when his disciples came to a town, they were to seek out someone “worthy” and make that person’s home their base for so long as they remained in that town. How would they know whether someone was worthy (Greek axios)? Only once they had begun to talk to them and share their message about Jesus. On entering a house they were to give to the folk who were living in it their “greeting”; and from what follows it is clear that that greeting was the traditional Jewish “Shalom lakem” — “Peace be with you”. Then (it is implied) they would begin to explain who they were and why they were there. And at that point there would be one of two reactions. “You are welcome. Please stay with us,” or “You are not welcome. We want you to leave.”
The first reaction would prove the house “worthy” whereas the second would prove it unworthy or “not deserving” as the NIV puts it. And if it was unworthy, then Jesus called for two actions to be taken against it that, though they may not seem so to us, would have been absolutely shocking to Jews like Jesus’ disciples.
First, they were to “let their peace return to them”. This refers to the actual vocal withdrawal of the Shalom lakem— something that can, I understand, be experienced in the Middle East even today when someone accidentally speaks a blessing over someone of another faith and then realises what they have done. This is because “Peace be with you” is not just a kind of “Good morning”. It is a real blessing that, to Eastern minds, actually carries the substance of that which is pronounced into the lives of those to whom it is spoken. And the truth that Jesus wanted his disciples to demonstrate by the shocking act of withdrawing the blessing of peace from a fellow Jew was that, from then on, real peace was not to be had except in relationship with himself. He was and is the Shalom-Giver. Shalom means so much more than mere quietness or absence of conflict. Shalom is a state of total well-being, where one is in harmony with God and one’s neighbour. And Jesus was teaching his disciples to demonstrate by their withdrawal of the blessing of shalom that there could be no such well-being, no such harmony, if he were rejected and excluded from a person’s life.
But Jesus went further. If the disciples and their message were rejected, they were to shake the dust from their feet as they left. This action was particularly outrageous because it was not something a Jew would ever do when leaving a Jewish home or a Jewish town. It was what a Jew would do when leaving gentile territory. Gentiles were “unclean” so every last vestige of contamination had to be shaken off by a pious Jew before he stepped back onto “holy land”. So, by taking this action against their fellow Jews, the message from the disciples would be clear: “By your rejection of the good news of Jesus which we bring, you have ceased to be part of the people of God. You have put yourselves outside of his Kingdom.”
When I look at this passage this morning, letting myself feel the force of what Jesus is saying, I am struck afresh by the uncompromising nature of Jesus’ claims. He knows that there is no other way to God except through himself; that there is salvation in none other. He knows that when a person turns his back on him he is making the worst and most dangerous decision in his life. He knows that when a person rejects him he is choosing death. Dare I be any less uncompromising and direct when I present Jesus to others?