Many of us are familiar with the following passage:
“When you enter any town or village, find out who is worthy, and stay there until you leave. Greet a household when you enter it, and if the household is worthy, let your peace be on it. But if it is unworthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that house or town. I assure you: It will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town." Matthew 10:11-15 [HCSB]
Those are the words of Jesus. In the verses that precede this passage, He is talking about your evangelizing work - what you should take with you and what you can leave behind. It is a passage preparing your for doing God's work. And the takeaway is that, once a place has rejected your message, leave.
I have always paid special attention to that phrase "shake the dust off your feet when you leave," because it seems so final. Just shake it off, just wash you hands of it because there's nothing more you can do there. Perhaps you have used this verse to excuse yourself from talking to certain people or going certain places that have not been hospitable or receptive to you. I know I have used it that way before.
But, I have discovered something else worthy of our attention. In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas were going town to town preaching the gospel. In the town of Antioch, they met some Jews who refused to hear their message.
"But the Jews incited the religious women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their district. But shaking the dust off their feet against them, they proceeded to Iconium." Acts 13:50-51
So, Paul and Barnabas did just as Jesus had said - these folks don't want to receive your message of peace, so leave them to their own ways. It will be better for Sodom and Gomorrah than for Antioch... But there's something in that statement that doesn't seem to match up with the loving, forgiving, patient Jesus that we know. I read the passage and mentally registered Matthew 10 and moved on. But then I got the turnaround in chapter 14.
Keep in mind, Paul and Barnabas had been rejected in Iconium, the very next town, as well. In fact, there was a group there that sought to stone them! Fleeing inevitable death, the two went on to Lystra where they got off to a good start healing a lame man. When the crowds mistook them for the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes, they had just begun to correct them when the Jews from Iconium showed back up and finished what they started, stoning Paul and leaving him for dead.
Paul did not die. He got up and kept preaching! The next day! Presumably, Paul is hardest-core leader of the early church... so the crew heads off for the next town, Derbe. Now, see what happens:
"After they had evangelized that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, strengthening the hearts of the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, "It is necessary to pass through many troubles on our way into the kingdom of God." Acts 14:21-22
First, wow, they returned to Lystra where Paul was stoned and they returned to Iconium, home of the guys who followed him all the way to Lystra just for the opportunity to stone him! These guys don't know how to give up!
For me, however, it's Antioch that is even more amazing. They were expelled from the district and they "shook the dust off their feet against them." It was done, it was final. Those folks were cut loose and on their own from here on out because the dust had been shook off... that's the final word, right?
Apparently not. Because God never gives up on you. And you cannot afford to give up on anyone. If somebody pushes you to the point where you have to shake the dust off your feet and move on, do so. But, one day, you have to go back and check up on them. Hearts change, lives change, and people change. We cannot give up because God does not give up.