Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

When should you wipe the dust from your feet?

I attended a prayer meeting last night where the leader read from Luke 10 (The sending of the seventy two). He was focussing on the obligation upon Christians to proclaim the message of salvation, but as he read the passage, I couldn’t help reading Luke 10:11 once again and asking myself how one should interpret this verse in a modern context. According to that verse (and the same message is found in Luke 9:5), if someone working for the Lord is not welcomed in a town, then that disciple should wipe the dust from his feet as a symbol to show God’s dissatisfaction with the town.
I know of some modern evangelists who literally do this. What I was wondering about is when, if ever, we are allowed to do this. I went through all my commentaries on Luke, trying to see what they say about this verse. The “lightweight” commentaries all skip this verse. The “heavyweight” commentaries discuss the verse but give no indication on what the modern meaning of this verse could be. My impression is that this verse is a bit of an embarrassment for Christians.
One reason why I struggle with this is that I am convinced that the gospel of Christ is often rejected because of the way in which we present it, rather than because people do not want anything to do with Christ. A number of years ago an evangelist pitched up in our town with a “monster” truck which served not only as home for him and his wife but also as a studio where videos and tapes could be copied after his preaching (read: performance) and a huge storage room where books could be sold from. Not wanting to rely on hearsay about this man, I went to listen to him on two occasions. There he told the people that in a previous town he had been asked to leave and he had wiped the dust from his feet to indicate that God had withdrawn His hand from those people. Later I found out that the reason why the town council had asked him to leave was because he had been stealing electricity from overhead cables! Now, someone who is rejected for that reason is a far cry from people who are rejected because the residents of a town do not want anything to do with the gospel!
When looking at these two passages again, the one thing that stands out is the mandate which was given first to the twelve disciples and then to the seventy two. In both cases they were told, not only to preach the kingdom of God but also to heal the sick. Without wanting to get into a debate at this point about the issue of healing, it seems to me that the main message is that the disciples were sent into towns as servants of the people living there. Their task was to get involved with people on grass-roots level and to help them with their most crucial needs at that time. My experience with evangelists is that they seldom enter a town as servants. Many enter town, looking more like a film (0r pop) star. Something else which stands out is the accommodation which the disciples were entitled to: Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. I doubt whether the local 5-star hotel would pass the test of this passage!
When you have moved into a community, proclaiming the message of peace to those living there, coming in the image of a servant with the attitude to address the people’s greatest needs, indicating – amongst others through your willingness to live as they are living – that you truly wish to associate yourself with them, and the community still rejects the gospel, then we may be able to justify the wiping of the dust from out feet. But until then, I doubt whether we can do it.


Monday, January 14, 2008 - Posted by | Building relations, Church, Evangelism, Mission, Social issues, Theology


  1. Arnau,

    Were they sent to the cities of Israel only in the passage? (I don’t have my Bible in front of me right now so I didn’t check yet) If there is, could there be a larger theological point tha the author is trying to make concerning Israel?

    Also, AMEN! Living amongst (or like) the people is very important. The first two years my church went to Central Asia we lived in places that were below the “comfort level” of most of the people around us. They were shocked to find that we would live somewhere like “that” when we were Americans. It said a lot to them about us.

    Well, I won’t go much further than that.


    PS-Don’t hold your breath to see my follow up post on Matthew. I’ll be slammed the next two weeks with orientation and a two day seminar at school.

    Comment by dwmiii | Monday, January 14, 2008 | Reply

  2. Arnau,
    I’m finally able to read your posts and comment! The last few weeks have been brutal and then I was the victim of identity theft with hundreds of dollars being taken from my bank account. All is fixed now, but it stole time as well as money.

    Back to the subject of this post.

    My hermeneutics class is coming up when I think of this passage. I wonder if the passage is even meant for us today or if it was specifically for only that time and that situation where Jesus sent out the disciples.

    Also, as you so eloquently asked, when do you interpret that it is okay to shake the dust from your feet? I think both cultural and theological issues arise here. Most cultures do not experience strange men coming and staying in people’s homes like this, number one. Also, as you stated, why are people rejecting the message? Could it be the behavior of the “preachers”. In addition, so much bad behavior and poor examples have been given over the last two thousand years that if people “reject the gospel” are they really rejecting the gospel or have they been so sick of what was supposed to be the gospel that they have had enough and they don’t want to hear anything?

    I’m of the opinion at this time that although we are called to preach the good news of the kingdom, that Jesus’ instructions in that passage were specific to that time.

    Comment by Maya | Tuesday, January 15, 2008 | Reply

  3. Dougald,
    Verse 1 says that Jesus sent them to every town and place where He was about to go, but I think we can safely assume at this stage that it was mostly Israel that they went to.

    I’m so sorry to hear about the problems you’ve gone through. It recently happened to a good friend of mine who lost about $12000 in the same way and it doesn’t seem as if he will get it back.
    I would be reluctant to say that Jesus’ instruction were specific to that time. As you would have learnt in hermeneutics we do need to interpret those words for our modern time, which is what I’m struggling with (not seriously, as I have no intention of wiping the dust from my feet – it’s more a matter of being a bit inquisitive about it).

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, January 15, 2008 | Reply

  4. Jesus is the same today and tomorrow. So I believe it’s meant for all times, modern and old.

    Comment by David Scroggins | Friday, November 7, 2008 | Reply

  5. David, my problem with your solution is that we will then have to say that everything that Jesus told His disciples will have to be duplicated today – going on the road, two by two, taking nothing with us – no food, no extra clothing, no money, relying on people to give us accommodation wherever we go, and of course, if we fail to heal the sick and drive out the demons, would they then be free to chase us from their towns if they believe we are charlatans? I don’t think is’t as simple as saying that Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. Obviously He is, but we are not the same and our worls is not the same.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Friday, November 7, 2008 | Reply

  6. It is important to note, I have a friend who became, for sure and certain, after watching “Jesus Christ Superstar” !
    She is Jewish by birth, but she said that after the show she was talking about it and she and her friends were discussing it. One of her friends was talking about Jeusus in such a way that she asked them the question, “You mean that Jesus was a real historical person?” and of course they said “Yes, didn’t you know that?” And she said from that moment on she was totally engrossed in Jesus and sought to learn more and more about Him. The Christian around her did not offer her much discipleship but God guided her to the right places and the right people. She is now a teacher of God’s Word.

    Therefore, you can never tell how God will use someone or some thing to plant his seed in a person’s heart. If the man in question read the Bible to people at all, God’s seeds were sown, and perhaps landed in some fertile soil.

    The Apostles came to Jesus one day and were very upset that others, outside their circle, were preaching Jesus to people. Jesus said, “…if they are not against us, they are for us…”, and the apostle Paul said, “…some will preach Christ out of wrong reasons, but thank God, His Name is preached…”.

    Now, I know that doesn’t make sense to us, and it just does not “feel” right. But we keep forgetting, it is God Who draws people to Himself; we can preach all day and night and no one will come to Him unless He is also working in people’s hearts and minds. Therefore, we SHOULD preach without ceasing because only He knows whom He will draw at any given moment, under any given circumstance. Just pray for the people who DID hear the man as he quoted or read scripture. The Word of God is sharper than a twoedged sword…” and “…the Word will not return empty; it will accomplish that for which it is sent out…”

    In Christ, let us move forward in our lives seeking to speak God’s Word and not our own. We never know who may be listening that God has drawn into our path to hear His living Word !

    Comment by Glenda | Wednesday, July 1, 2009 | Reply

  7. I have always interpreted this to mean Christians are not to brow beat or try to force the gospel on others. Simply live and deliver the message. If the message is not received or welcomed, move on to others who may be more receptive. You can lead a horse…yada yada yada

    Comment by John | Saturday, September 11, 2010 | Reply

  8. i always like to stay on 5 star hotels because the ameneties and the ambiance is always great _

    Comment by Metallic Sandals : | Sunday, October 31, 2010 | Reply

  9. Well, firstly I think it is really good that people are asking the question. What are people scared of when they duck the hard questions?

    Personally, I think we need to get real. God is not just Love, but will also come to judge. It shows a remarkable similarity to our relationship with Jesus, that is, if we reject him he does not force himself on us. But we were also kicked out of the Garden of Eden for turning our backs on him.

    If Christ offers me Plan A and I reject that and take Plan B, he doesn’t stuff Plan A down my throat. Rather he says, “Well you’re a big boy and you are free to make up your mind. You don’t know what you are missing though …”. There will be consequences as a result of my decision.

    In this context, I think the “town” has to make the first move, just as I need to with Christ. Our Grace needs to be sufficient for the “towns” in our life, so that we do not condemn but accept them just as Christ would accept us, but neither should we force ourselves on them against their will. If they have decided, so be it. There will be consequences as the result of their decision.

    Whether I should wear sandals is another question. But what if I wear socks too … 😉

    Comment by Mark | Wednesday, January 5, 2011 | Reply

  10. ;:: I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives great information ;.,

    Comment by Fishing Umbrella | Tuesday, January 25, 2011 | Reply

  11. Excellent post!! I really like your site!!

    Comment by Hotel in Thailand | Thursday, May 26, 2011 | Reply

  12. Wow, fantastic blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is great, as well as the content!. Thanks For Your article about When should you wipe the dust from your feet? Mission Issues .

    Comment by Baju bayi | Wednesday, April 10, 2013 | Reply

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