SURFING THE NEW TESTAMENT
Some people haunt antique stores searching for overlooked heirlooms at bargain prices. Some people walk along sandy beaches swinging portable metal detectors looking for valuables buried in the sand. Me, I sometimes surf the Greek New Testament in search of – well, who knows what’ll turn up? Does the guy with the metal detector know what he’s going to turn up? Does the antique hunter? No, that’s the fun of it, right?
Okay, so there I was on Thursday afternoon reading the start of Luke Ch.9, Jesus’ instructions to his apostles before he sends them out on their first mission. Toward the end of the passage he says “Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’” (Lk 9:5)
I figured I’d check out the strange word apotinassō (pronounced ap-ot-in-as’-so), meaning “to shake off.” It’s a combination of apo, “from, away from,” and tinassō, “to jostle.” So far nothing very exciting. Then I see that Luke uses it again in Acts (the only other time the word is used in the NT), when Paul and his companions are shipwrecked and washed ashore. Can you find apotinassō in the following passage?
After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. 2The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us round it. 3 Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, ‘This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.’ 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead, but after they had waited a long time and saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god. (Lk 28:1-6)
Did you spot it? Right! What Paul did to the viper in verse 5 is what Jesus told his apostles to do to the dust on their sandals: he gave it a really good shake.
Now I had something. I began to turn it over in my mind. Hmm. I was like a guy standing on the beach with his headphones and metal detector studying this odd object he’d just uncovered in the sand. Here’s what I made out of it.
Some people collect bad memories, saving up and preserving every failure and every defeat, every hurt and every horror that they’ve ever experienced. All of these things settle on them like so many bits of dust. Eventually they’re covered with the dust of decades of defeats and disappointments. I’ve met a few real dust collectors in my day. I bet you have too. They nurse grudges, they wallow in their failures,” they “forgive but never forget,” they enjoy reliving at will any and every pain they’ve ever gone through. They just can’t let go of those things. They live in a dust cloud.
As the apostles are setting out through Samaria (of all places!) on their first missionary journey, Jesus instructs them, “Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them” – and move on to the next town with your sandals newly cleaned. He’s telling the brand-new missionaries not to collect defeats, because those can latch on to you and be as deadly as vipers. He counsels the apostles to do what Paul did to that viper that was attached to his hand: just flick it off into the fire and be rid of it. Paul did it in Greek, of course (apotinassō), but you can do it in English: Shake it off!
Granted, for some people this kind of letting go is terribly difficult, to the point that they may require professional help to assist them in learning how to let go of negative memories. My little reflection here is intended for more mundane experiences, those times when any of us is tempted to dwell too much on some negative experience instead of just letting it go and moving on with our life. Sometimes you hear some wise person say “Life’s too short for me to worry about that” as they’re dusting off their sandals, resisting the urge to retaliate in kind after a neighbor has done something nasty to them, or the temptation to tuck it away in their memory until the end of time.
A PROPOSED ADDITION
What about making sandal-dusting a ritual to be celebrated as a conclusion to the Penitential Rite at Sunday mass? It could go something like this:
Just a thought.