The Time of Visitation: Dusty Feet, Judgment, and Peace in the Mission of Jesus (Part 1)

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. (Matthew 10:11-15)

Thus far we’ve been examining the mission Jesus gave his apostles and noted several distinct points:

1. They were sent out to do the same thing Jesus had been doing — to proclaim that the kingdom had come, and to do the work of the kingdom to demonstrate that what they said was true.
2. They were not to take with them any means of self-support. Jesus required them to go out and be dependent on the people who would receive them (or not).

This last point matters. I think we tend to read Jesus’s instructions that the apostles undertake their mission without money or supplies as an instruction to them to be entirely dependent on God, in a direct and supernatural way.

But in fact, Jesus went on to speak the words we’re looking at today — words that place the expectation for provision on the people themselves.

Levitical Foreshadowing

In the specifically Jewish context of the gospel of Matthew, this arrangement actually echoed the ancient agreement between the Levites — the priestly tribe responsible for worship and the teaching of the law — and the rest of the Israelites.

The Levites had no land inheritance, other than a few cities within the territories of the other tribes. Levite families served in the temple on a regular rotation. When they weren’t serving, they could work the fields around their cities. While they were on rotation, their livelihood was supposed to come from the rest of the nation in the form of tithes and offerings.

When the nation of Israel fell into apostasy, one consequence was that the Levites were forced to abandon the temple and stop facilitating the regular worship of Yahweh.

Jesus sent his apostles out on essentially the same terms. As messengers of God, preaching his message and bringing his power, they were to be received and supported by the people as an act not just of hospitality but also of worship.

In honoring the apostles and their message, the people would honor God.

Given that backdrop, we can see that Jesus gave his apostles these instructions in part to keep them humble but just as much, maybe more, to gauge the response of the people to God. The announcement of the kingdom forced a decision for or against Yahweh’s Messiah — and that was the point.

If the people welcomed God’s kingdom, the apostles would likewise receive a warm welcome. If they rejected it, the apostles would share in Christ’s sufferings in a very literal way — they would go hungry or spend the night in the cold.

At the same time, this dynamic would mark each town or village as deserving of peace or of judgment. As the apostles journeyed throughout their home country, their journey identified those who welcomed God and those who rejected him.

It was a double-edged mission from the start.

One Who Is Worthy

When the apostles went into a new town, they were to look for a worthy individual to welcome them — and following the custom of hospitality (well-known in that part of the world then and now) the worthy individual in question would house them, feed them, clothe them, and give them a place to share their message.

We don’t often speak of “worthiness” in our culture, but the Greek gives the sense of one who “has weight” — a person of substance, in other words, not so much in the sense of means as of character. The worthy person was one with a good reputation as a lover of God and his Word, someone who was known to be virtuous and deserving.

For a moment that may get our hackles up: Wait a minute, we think, didn’t Jesus always go straight to the prostitutes and druggies and tax collectors in a town? Actually he didn’t; he and his apostles generally sought out people who were visibly seeking God.

When they found such a person and entered his household, the disciples were to give “their peace” to them — a traditional blessing usually given upon departing.

The Greek word translated “peace” denotes the Hebrew concept of “shalom,” which does not just mean peace in the sense of the absence of conflict, but a peace that incorporates wholeness, prosperity, justice, and well-being in every sense.

But again, there is a twist here. Unexpectedly, some who didn’t appear to be God-seekers were the first to welcome Jesus and his message — while some who DID appear to be godly people were ultimately guilty of rejecting him.

Part of Jesus’s mission was to expose the truth of people’s hearts. As he made clear in his instructions, some who appeared to be “worthy” would not be, and the disciples were to withdraw their blessing from such a person and his household.

Others who did not initially appear to be “worthy” would prove to be worthy indeed, and they would receive the blessing of God.

The Pharisee and the Prostitute

A striking example of this double-edged mission in action is found in Luke 7:36-50, where Jesus was invited to eat in the home of a notable Pharisee named Simon.

So far in this story, everything lines up as expected: Jesus arrives in town, Simon steps up as the “worthy” one, and Jesus goes to eat and talk with him in his well-to-do home.

But during the course of the dinner, something shifts. A woman enters who is known to be a “sinner” — most likely a prostitute. Cognizant that Jesus has forgiven her a great debt, she pours an alabaster jar of expensive perfume over his feet, and weeping on the floor before him, she washes his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair.

The entire scene is one of extravagant honor — hospitality of the most extreme kind — so extravagant as to embarrass the Pharisee and others at the table.

The thoughts of their hearts are exposed: they judge the woman’s actions as sinful, and they call Jesus’s legitimacy as a prophet into question because “if He were a prophet, He would know who and what kind of a woman this is who is touching Him” (Luke 7:39).

Jesus hears their thoughts and responds with an indictment of Simon’s hospitality and a justification of the woman.

He first explains that she loves much because she has been forgiven much. Then he says,

Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she, with her tears, has washed My feet and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing My feet since I came in. You didn’t anoint My head with olive oil, but she has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. (Luke 7:44-46>

To the woman herself, he concludes by giving the blessing of his peace: “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

The Double-Edged Gospel

Almost certainly, the apostles would encounter similar dynamics as they went out. Armed with the message of God, they would watch it do its work:

For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account. (Hebrews 4:12)

Curiously, as the apostles carried it throughout Judea, the Word — of the kingdom, of the gospel, of Jesus — only truly sought to expose one thing: whether or not a heart would welcome Jesus.

Forgiveness was on offer, so individual sins were not the issue. Everyone was guilty; the gospel message didn’t go out to prove that. Jesus didn’t bother to point out the woman’s sins to her, although he certainly knew about them.

Instead, the Word went out to expose pride and hardness of heart. It went out as an invitation that forced a response. Some would refuse to welcome God into their lives. Others would be willing to do so no matter what kind of mess also dwelt there.

Those who welcomed and honored Jesus, like the prostitute, would find themselves forgiven and blessed with the peace of the eternal kingdom.

Those who refused him who would find themselves outside that kingdom forever.

Next week, we’ll take a deeper look at the blessing of peace and its opposite — the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah.


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This is Part 142 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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