I must’ve read this passage a hundred times but I didn’t truly grasp the gravity of the orders given by Jesus. He is telling them, “Hey, don’t keep wasting your breath, move on….they are already dead”
Wow. If we take that to heart it is both consoling and disconcerting. On one hand, it gives us permission to move on and not feel bad about the unchanged hearts. On the other hand, the human side of us, our compassion says, “I can’t just let them die..I have to try again…and again..
I stumbled onto this writing about the verse and felt it was worthwhile to add it in here.
Middle East travellers would often arrive with their feet caked in dust and hence foot washing was quite traditional. The Jews made this a theological and sacred issue though. Jewish customs and traditional teaching believed that any land outside of Israel was defiling, or at least its dirt was. This presumably caused some questions of conscience and consternation for those Diaspora Jews living outside of first century Palestine. Jews were to "shake off" any dust or dirt from outside lands when returning to Israel, or even off any imported fruit and food. The dust of a gentile land was equivalent to the defiling brought about by coming into contact with a corpse. F1
"The very dust of a heathen country was unclean, and it defiled by contact. It was regarded like a grave, or like the putrescence of death. If a spot of heathen dust had touched an offering, it must at once be burnt. More than that, if by mischance any heathen dust had been brought into Palestine, it did not and could not mingle with that of 'the land,' but remained to the end what it had been - unclean, defiled, and defiling everything to which it adhered. This will cast light upon the meaning conveyed by the symbolical directions of our Lord to His disciples (Matthew 10:14), when He sent them forth to mark out the boundary lines of the true Israel - 'the kingdom of heaven,' that was at hand: 'Whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.' In other words, they were not only to leave such a city or household, but it was to be considered and treated as if it were heathen, just as in the similar case mentioned in Matthew 18:17." (Edersheim, Sketches In Jewish Social Life, ch.2; cf. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol.1, pp.643-44)
By treating them as dust or judged like Sodom, according to contemporary Jewish teaching, his disciples were to treat the towns' people as corpses, already dead, with respect to the Kingdom. Shocking! No hanging around to win them over by love and good works over a long period of time, just move on. Moreover, it was a far cry from the restoration promise offered in Isaiah 49:23: "They shall bow down to you with their faces to the earth, And lick up the dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the LORD". Instead of Israel's enemies licking the dust from her feet her own dust was being shaken off by Jesus' Jewish disciples and the towns treated as heathen.
So what if we apply this to the churches who refuse to comply with the very commandments of Jesus?
There is this air of heated passion and frustration moving across America. 6,000 churches closing each year. And yet a handful have changed the way they worship by tearing down the walls, going head first into their community , led by pastors who know it’s not about saving their job, it’s about saving the souls of the misguided. These are the true warriors of our time. Unafraid of pews filled with frumpy hypocrites who might carry a large check book right out the door. The strongest of leaders simply says, “let them go, we have kingdom work to do and they were slowing us down”. The knowledge of standing before God and hearing ourselves say “ I made everybody feel good about their inaction and I altered my message to shield them from the truth”, doesn't feel right. That will not sit well. If Jesus was pressed to speak of the most important commandment to follow, and he chose to say what he did, then we should accept it and get busy doing it. Wipe the dust off our feet and move on….