The Devil’s Dust

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Monday in the week of Proper 23, Year 1 (Pentecost 20, 2015)

Matthew 10:14 ~ Jesus told his disciples: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”

I was born in the desert and spent the formative, play-outside years of my childhood there. We had a small plot of grass as our front yard, but the back was desert sand, gravel, and rock. My best friend Richard and I often played there catching “horned toads” and other lizards, sometimes confronting more dangerous reptiles: I have early memories of instruction from my father about rattlesnakes and even more vivid memories of encountering them. (“Back away, smoothly but quickly!”)

After a time playing in a desert yard, one is generally covered with dust, not just one’s feet but one’s entire being. We lived in small house, we didn’t have what I have come in later life to call a “mud room”; such a chamber would have been a “dust room” in our home, I guess. Instead, our back door entered directly onto the kitchen, which also served as our dining room.

My mother, a fastidious housekeeper right up to the day she died, hated dust, and she hated having anyone track dust into her home. So there was a large mat outside the kitchen door on which my friends and I were to wipe our feet very well, and just inside the door was a bin in which she required us to deposit any dusty outerwear. My friends (I hope) got used to playing inside at the Funston home dress only in t-shirts and tighty-whities if they had started their visit with an hour or two of reptile capture in the backyard.

Dust had to be kept out! So when Jesus tells the disciples to “shake off the dust,” I know exactly what he is saying. Dust is the Enemy!

Just recently, I had the opportunity to preach on St. Francis Day and, while researching my sermon, I ran across this image of the devil attributed to Francis by his first biographer, Thomas of Celano. The devil, Francis said, “carries fine dust with him in little boxes and scatters it through the cracks in our conscience in order to dim the soul’s pure impulses and its luster.” (Celano, Second Life)

That’s what we need to shake off, the Devil’s Dust. That dust is the cloud of evil that blocks the good, that sullies the good news, that dims our consciences, and that chokes off the proclamation. Shake it off!