At our Mass at the retreat house this afternoon, I offered the reflection on today’s readings. In today’s Gospel from Mark, Jesus gives instructions to his disciples, as he sends them off to proclaim the Kingdom.
In my reflection, I spoke about two aspects of Jesus’ instruction: His telling the disciples to take nothing for the journey and his instruction that “Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.” Since I’ve written here many times about the first aspect – take nothing for the journey – I thought I’d share here some thoughts on the language I just quoted.
I’ve sat with this line a couple of times, because it always strikes me as a bit harsh. It is an instruction that I think can be easy to get wrong. Clearly Jesus is not suggesting that we walk away every time we encounter someone who disagrees with our efforts to proclaim the Gospel. The Gospel message is in many ways a counter-cultural one and people are not always going to “welcome” us immediately. (Jesus knew that; hence his ending the Beatitudes with “blessed are you when they insult you because of me.) So some fortitude, patience and endurance are necessary.
But I do read Jesus as saying here that sometimes we do just need to walk away. That we won’t always succeed in reaching people. I am not saying they are inherently unreachable by anyone, but they may be unreachable by me. (I am often reminded that Jesus let the rich young man walk away – he didn’t chase after him and force him to sell all he had.) Knowing when to stay in dialogue, and when to shake the dust from our feet is, I think, the challenge.
When we do walk away, we don’t do so in anger, seeking retribution, but with love. I was reminded when reading this instruction of the passage in Luke where Jesus’ disciples ask him if they should call down fire from heaven to consume a town that did not welcome them. Jesus rebuked them. And when the rich young man walked away, Jesus looked upon him with love. We ought to remember the final lines of today’s first Mass reading from Hosea, where God says he will not give vent to anger and will not destroy Ephraim. Instead, God’s heart was overwhelmed, his pity stirred.
How do we respond when we are rejected? With the same love?