Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Matthew 10:1-15) transports me to a hot and dry summer, circa early ’70s, when my brother Dave joined a couple of his buddies working on a Perry Alexander road construction crew so they could get some sun and build some muscles while earning some folding money. I remember a particular dinner table conversation when Dave recounted an unfortunate encounter during his day on the job. He told us they were all out there sweating it out, digging ditches or laying pipe or whatever it was they did, when some guy in a muscle car drove by the work site, stopped, and then gunned it, spinning dirt and gravel their way, shouting from the window, eat my dust! I may be wrong, but something tells me the culprit was our neighbor Clement, who had the reputation of a pretty rough customer at the time, and was known to shout various epithets from the window of his Plymouth Duster to stir up trouble.
Whether or not it was our neighbor that day, it gives me some pleasure now to picture Simon Peter in the rowdy guise of Clement, gunning it down a dusty road among those trying to construct the kingdom of God, shouting out parting shots whenever the parlays for peace get a hostile response. Jesus sent his followers out knowing full well that they were not likely to find a lot of hospitality along the way. A note of interest here is the passage’s reference to Sodom. We tend to connect the wickedness of this city to sexual exploits, but Jesus is referencing the prophet Ezekiel, who claimed that Sodom’s real sin was not sexual in nature, but was the city’s lack of hospitality for the poor and needy. Jesus is sending his posse of impoverished preachers out without a safety net, trusting in the kindness of strangers to meet their basic needs for food and shelter. And there will be some who refuse to be peaceable and hospitable. In a day and age when peacemaking attempts are discounted if they don’t appear likely to succeed, it’s instructive that Jesus was not so concerned with outcomes. Preaching peace did not depend on having a likelihood of welcoming response. It’s also instructive that Jesus gave the disciples a good moving-along ritual – shake your dusty feet at the people who refuse peace, the people who withhold hospitality, and go on to the next house, the next town. It reminds me that we are called to be faithful in our gospel proclamation, not successful, and we’re not to get stuck in the ruts of worldviews that bind us to outcome measurements. Faced with the distinct possibility of confrontations with those who reject the prospects of peace, those who maintain a tight hold on their resources when confronted by poverty, Jesus was giving his disciples a defiant swan song to leave those inhospitable folks with: rock on gold dust people, take your silver spoon and dig your grave. Passages like this, portraying the judgment of Jesus on those who reject calls for peace, do tend to shatter our illusions of love.
It seems like a crazy challenge for Jesus to send us out on message deliveries doomed to some degree of failure, but it is Jesus after all. It is One who was headed to a cross. I doubt anyone else could have convinced the disciples to venture out on such a mission. Maybe they had the tune of another dusty soul ringing in their ears as they set out, shaking their heads, the only One who could ever reach me was the sweet talking Son of a preacher man (well, actually, the Son of God, but you get the picture). In case you don’t, imagine a mercury-like by-stander rattling off lyrics as he sees Jesus’ followers hustling down the street toward the next stop – Peter walks warily down the street, with the brim pulled way down low, ain’t no sound but the sound of his feet, boots of peace ready to go, are you ready, are you ready for this? Are you hanging on the edge of your seat? Out of the doorway, gospel words ring to the sound of the beat. . . An easy bonus point for whoever can finish the line, and more points to anyone who can name all the musical references in the post, dusty and otherwise.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “World Peace.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.