Monday, December 10, 2007

Shake Off the Dust: A Gospel Message of Radical Detachment?

Mark 6.8-11: “He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, "Where you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. And if any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet…”

In lectio on this passage, I was caught by the phrase “when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet.” As I let this phrase roll through my consciousness, this is what I heard.

“Take nothing…stay where you are received… if you are not received, don’t sweat it, but go on, taking nothing with you: no anger, no hurt, no blame, no regret, not even the dust on your feet. Come away clean, without attachment of any sort.”

It is a quiet act, shaking dust off. It is not rancorous in any way. Shake the dust from your feet: don’t piss and moan endlessly on about it, and certainly don’t get caught up in righteous indignation or vengeful wrath. But as you leave each place or person, shake off every grain of ill feeling.

In The Hidden Gospel, Neil Douglas-Klotz says that the words translated “good” and “evil” are more accurately translated “ripe” and “unripe” - for example in the gospel saying that “good” trees bear “good” fruit and “evil” trees bear “evil” fruit. How different to read, “The ripe tree bears ripe fruit. The unripe tree bears unripe fruit.”

It is not good for the gardener or the tree to try forcing fruit out of an unripe tree. The gardener needs to let go and move on, assuming the fruit of that tree will be ripe for others. Similarly, if mine is not the gospel for someone, he or she is none of my business. Who am I to judge another person's spiritual path?

So much for being rejected. What of the experience of being well received? It’s s-o-o-o easy to become addicted to thanks and praise. Yet, as my favorite desert Amma, Syncletica said, “Just as wax melts in the presence of fire, so also does the soul disintegrate in the face of praises.” I can’t be fully present if I’m busy manipulating events to get my fix of thanks and praise.

“Shake the dust off your feet.” The message is not about those who hear me or don’t hear me. It is about me: the student, the disciple. St. Antony suggested starting each day new, bringing no memory of any success or failure from the day before - to avoid feeding the demons of pride, anger or despair. If I want to live in the reign of God, I must practice letting go of everything from my encounters – the good, the bad, the sources of pride, the sources of shame, even the dust.


  1. Casey4:07 PM

    your comments about the fruit being described as ripe and unripe intrigued me. Being a novice Greek student, I did some reasearch and I was unable to find anything that would suggest either in Koine Greek (the language of the Bible) or classical greek (Homer and the like) where agathon (good) or sapron (bad) could be translated as ripe or unripe. This was a preliminary study, but it seems like the best translations would be good and rotten. I don't mention this to be argumentative, but rather to be informative. Thanks,

  2. I don't experience your comment as argumentative at all! In fact it is very kindly worded given that you have potentially found a major error in what I wrote.

    I very much appreciate your information. I don't read any kind of Greek and was basing this on my memory of someone else's work (Neil Douglas Klotz in _The Hidden Gospel_).

    So I looked up my source.

    It turns out, though the Gospels were written in Greek, Douglas-Klotz was talking about Aramaic.

    This is what he says (on page 1 of the book, no less), "When or if Jesus spoke those words [Matt 7:17], he spoke them in a Middle Eastern language, Aramaic. In Aramaic and in all the other Semitic languages, the word for 'good' primarily means 'ripe' and the word for 'corrupt' or 'evil' primarily means 'unripe.' When heard with Aramaic ears, those words might sound more like this: 'A ripe tree brings forth unripe fruit, an unripe tree brings forth unripe fruit.'"

    Is this a reasonable supposition about Jesus' meaning - assuming the saying is his? (And even if it is, those Aramaic ears may have heard unripe/corrupt/evil.)

    I guess that depends on how you experience Jesus' teaching. Douglas-Klotz's interpretations are largely based on the Aramaic Gospel of the Syrian Christians, as well as extensive knowledge of many other languages (and life-long Sufi study). They resonated with my direct, personal experience of Jesus and of the Divine love-light. I latched onto them (like a drowning woman) 'cause if I was ever gonna accept the pull I felt into Christianity, I had to find interpretations like these.

    Cheers, Elena

  3. oops. I meant:

    "A ripe tree brings forth *ripe* fruit, an unripe tree brings forth unripe fruit."


  4. Anonymous3:10 AM

    I found this writing to be extremely useful for reflection after clearly receiving the Word to "shake off the dust" in a current situation in my I thank you. You have very intriguing views on many things here, and I hope you find all that you have been seeking.

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