By, Isam Itson III
Matthew 10:14 – “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.”
Even people who don’t know God know that the ills and conflicts that plague our lives and societies are evil. Death, disaster, and destruction are evil. Even if we can temporarily secure ourselves against disaster and destruction we cannot overcome the inevitability of death and loss. We do everything within our power to stay alive and we die anyway. We are ultimately powerless in the face of death.
Poverty, distress, disease, and rejection signify the pervasive presence and power of death. In response to this truth most of us spend our lives sheltering ourselves from the signs of death. We strive to secure ourselves financially against poverty. We buy insurance for everything. We either seek independence from the opinion of others through tribal isolation, or we sacrifice our integrity in a vain attempt to have everybody love and value us. No matter what we achieve or accumulate, no matter who loves us, we cannot escape death, decay, and destruction. We cannot save ourselves from loss and death. We are not in control. We have no real power over our own lives. In this life we are vulnerable to circumstances and the decisions of people beyond our influence or control.
In the face of this real danger, Jesus sends his followers into the world with the good news of God’s kingdom. God is in charge and God is with us. We are not alone. God holds our lives in his hands. God works in our lives and through our lives to fulfill his purpose for all of creation. God provides all of our material and relational necessities for the fulfillment of his purpose for our lives.
Though we are vulnerable to death and destruction like everybody else, God’s followers live with the assurance that death is merely a transition into the infinite and eternal presence of God. We can trust God with our lives because he has given his life for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus passed through death into life, we have the assurance of the same experience for ourselves. We can overcome our fear of suffering and death by trusting in the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ. By the grace of God we can overcome the evil that results from our fear filled choices and from the fear filled choices of our fellow humans.
Through faith in Jesus God has given us the vision, ability, and authority to do great things in the world. Every human being has the capacity to use what God has given them to love and trust God with their lives and to honor God’s love for other people by virtue of his Holy Spirit living within them. This shift in our focus and intention hangs upon our trust in God’s love and faithfulness to provide for our physical, social, and material needs.
Our sympathy and empathy for one another grows out of our trust in God. We are not free to faithfully consider others until we are certain of our own safety. “What about our children?” “What about my spouse?” “What about my brothers and sisters?” “What about me?” Even as followers of Jesus Christ we still have to wrestle with our personal concerns for the cares of this life. But we do not have to be held back by our fears.
Our fear for our own lives and the lives of our loved ones keeps us from spending our lives as a blessing to others in obedience to God and service to one another. If this is so difficult for those of us who have experienced God’s love in our lives, how much more difficult is it for those who have not yet experienced God’s presence and power? How can we expect them to trust God with their lives in the face of the very real dangers of life? By loving one another and reaching out to others in spite of our fears. As representatives of God, followers of Jesus Christ have to prepare themselves for the inevitability of personal loss and rejection as we live in light of the presence of God and proclaim the rule of God within this world that is still subject to death and decay.
This is the setting for Jesus’ instruction to his disciples in Matthew 10. People who follow Jesus identify closely with Jesus. So Jesus is telling his disciples not to take the rejection of his message personally. Put it quickly behind them and move on until someone perceives the hope and value of the offer of everlasting life in God’s kingdom.
In 1 Corinthians 9:22, the apostle Paul wrote that he had become all things to all men, that by all means he might save some. And Jesus shared with his disciples in John 6:44 that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them. So as followers of Jesus Christ we put time, energy, prayer, and care into sharing the life transforming power of the Gospel with others. Knowing they may reject our message. Perhaps even demeaning us in the process. All it means is that God has not yet drawn them close enough.
With all respect just move along if someone is not ready to accept your expression of the love, wisdom, power, and faithfulness of God. We cannot give in to the temptation to take personal offense at their rejection. They are rejecting the offer of God’s grace, not ours.
When we move on peacefully and respectfully we are honoring God’s sovereignty and his gift of free will. God will keep working on them. We can still pray for them, but we need not be anxious over them. God loves them more than we do. We are responsible for our own choices, and accountable to God for how we spend our lives, but we have no control over the choices of others.
So we move on trusting God’s love, grace, and power displayed on their behalf in Jesus Christ. If honoring God’s love for others costs us time, energy, money, reputation, or even our lives, what is that in comparison with the life God has given us in Jesus Christ? Just brush the dust off, and move along, with all love and respect.