Right before John the Baptist became John the Headless, the writer of Mark records that Jesus gathered “the Twelve” together and sent them out with these instructions,
“Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
On the surface this isn’t a particularly exciting passage. Most of us pass it by without much thought – except, of course, for that last little bit about shaking the dust off your feet. There are few things better than finding Biblical justification for throwing a temper tantrum at church because something didn’t go your way.
But I digress.
As it turns out, this seemingly innocuous portion of scripture is, in fact, one of the most challenging passages in the Bible.
That is,it’s one of the most challenging passages in the Bible…if you’re a fundamentalist.
You see, if you call yourself a Biblical fundamentalist, that is to say, if you believe that everything in the Bible is to be taking literally, everything in it is absolutely true (i.e. inerrant), including historical and scientific information, and, above all, all of Jesus’ commands are to be followed literally then his passage raises a bit of a problem.
Particularly if you happen to live in a cold climate.
When Jesus sent out his disciples he gave them very specific instruction on what to wear. He said, “Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.”
Now, if you’re going to take this Biblical fundamentalism thing seriously, you’ve got to take this passage seriously. These are the clear, easy to understand instructions Jesus gives to his followers for how to conduct themselves as his disciples in the world. Yes, he’s talking specifically to the Twelve, but he was also talking specifically to a first-century crowd on a hillside when he gave the Sermon on the Mount, yet we still take his teachings are being relevant to us. Why? Because when Jesus gave instructions for how to be his follower he was never talking just to the people right in front of him at the time. He was talking to anyone who would choose to follow him for all time.
So, if you’re a fundamentalist you’ve got to take his commands as literally here as you do everywhere, otherwise you’re not being faithful to a plain reading of the text.
Which means, when our only option for footwear is a pair of sandals it’s hard to be a fundamentalist in Alaska.
Now, if you count yourself as a fundamentalist, or just somebody who believes they take the Bible literally, maybe you want to push back on me here. Maybe, like I alluded to before, you want to claim that Jesus just meant his instructions for the disciples who could actually hear his voice.
If that’s the case, I would like to caution you. As you so often like to warn me, if you can’t take one part of the Bible literally true, how can you believe any of it is true?
Now if you want to continue to argue that Jesus only meant what he said here only for his immediate audience, how do you know that for sure? The Bible certainly doesn’t say that. Sure it says he was talking to “the Twelve,” but it didn’t say those instructions were only for them? Besides, we have no problem employing that part about shaking off dust. Why is it that only that part is still relevant to us? Is it because that part’s easy, but the stuff about wearing only sandals is not so much? But that just makes me confused, because I’ve never seen anyone actually shake dust off their sandals who was leaving the church, service, or blog they were mad at.
Moreover, how do we know Jesus wasn’t talking only to his first century audience when he was telling all those other parables and preaching all those other sermons. Given a plain reading of scripture there’s never any explicit mention that he was talking to anyone not standing right in front of him. So why it that we can ignore his instructions here, but not elsewhere, like when he tells these same Twelve to go and make disciples of all the world baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit?
Those words were spoken with the same directness to a specific audience as the command about only wearing sandals, and yet we extend the so-called Great Commission to us, but not the footwear restrictions.
We’re not being very literal here if you ask me.
We’re certainly not being very consistent.
You see, if you’re going to claim that you can be a fundamentalist, live in Alaska, and not wear sandals, then you’re going to have to do one of one things – either pretend like this passage doesn’t exist (which, of course, would be lying; something Jesus definitely said not to do) or admit that you’re interpreting this passage.
Now, don’t go freaking out on me. Interpretation isn’t that scary. You do it all the time and don’t even realize it. In fact, it’s a necessary and unavoidable part of reading the BIble.
The truth of the matter is if you’ve ever preached a sermon, taught Sunday school lesson about the meaning of a Bible story, or even “just” quoted a verse verbatim to make a point about something you’ve done the work of interpretation.
And that’s ok.
Because without that act of interpretation there’s no room for God to work, no space for God to speak, no way for God to do the transforming work that God intended the Bible to bring about in our lives.
To be continued tomorrow….
Grace and peace,