I’ve been reading about the act of “shaking the dust off one’s feet” the past couple of days. It’s confusing. We’re told countless times to not be judgmental, to be loving and kind, but then there is this instruction to “shake the dust off your feet” when leaving someone or someplace which rejects and ridicules you. Ritually, shaking off dust is a sign of derision, an indication that one will not have anything to do with someone again. How is this act not judgmental?
The best I can reason so far is that there is a handing off of responsibility. There is the responsibility we have to care for others, the responsibility we have for our actions and choices, and the responsibility between people to respect the decisions of others, even when we think they are wrong.
So, I have a duty to treat others with kindness, and part of this is teaching about faith, ethics, etc. This teaching from one person to another is necessary so that the student can then incorporate these lessons into his own life and thereby take responsibility for living according to the faith, ethics, and so on.
Now, this duty to teach (by word and deed) ends as soon as it bumps into the boundaries of another person’s freedom to chose how to live. I cannot and should not force my morality or faith onto anyone else. If someone looks at me and says, “that’s nuts, no way do I agree with you,” then I need to accept that and let it go.
The examples in the book of Acts are more, shall we say, emphatic than this. Paul was a fairly feisty character and it seems that he couldn’t do much without a show. Admittedly, he was being driven violently out of towns, so maybe that fed his fire. He shook his clothes out and exclaimed that his responsibility to these people ended when they threw him out.
Maybe the finality of the dust-shaking has more to do with the persecution and less to do with the disagreement? Maybe it means that when someone forcefully rejects me, it is then okay to let that person go. I don’t need to allow myself to be beaten up. Maybe this dust-shaking is a way to preserve ourselves from being sacrificial, since the sacrifices have already been made on our behalf.
For reference: Acts 13:51, 18:6, Matthew 10:14, Mark 6:11, Luke 9:5, 10:14