In a casual reading, the story at the beginning of Luke chapter 9 doesn't seem to have much relation to the events of the previous chapter. But, looking deeper, it does.
At the end of Luke chapter 8, when the little girl who seemed to be dead was brought back to life, Jesus commanded that her parents give her something to eat. In sacred scripture, giving someone “something to eat” is about spiritual nourishment. It refers not only to teaching, but also spiritually nourishing one another with words of encouragement that align with spiritual truth. To the extent that we do this for one another, we become God’s disciples and apostles, cooperating with Him in the work of salvation. We are “disciples” while in His presence, learning from His Word. And we are His “apostles” when we are being sent out to minister to others, through our words and actions.
It's appropriate, then, that chapter 9 begins with Jesus calling together His twelve disciples, and then sending them out to minister to others:
“Having called together His twelve disciples, He gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. And He sent them out to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:1-2).
In a deep sense, the gathering together of the twelve disciples, before sending them out as apostles, represents an important step in our spiritual development. This begins when Jesus “calls His twelve disciples together” in us, which represents that time in our lives when we begin to understand matters of the spirit more deeply. Every “disciple” represents an essential spiritual principle. As we “gather” these principles together in our minds, striving to see how they cohere and relate to the larger whole, we begin to see the connections between ideas, and we develop a keener discernment between what is primary and what is secondary. As a result, we can apply the truth we have been learning more usefully in our lives. 1
After gathering the disciples together, Jesus sends them forth as His apostles, giving them specific instructions for the journey. “Take nothing for your journey,” He says to them. They are not to take a staff, or a backpack, or bread, or silver, or even an extra change of clothes. Every word has spiritual significance. They will not be needing a “staff,” because they will be relying on the Lord alone. They will not need a “pack” to store up what they have learned, because the Lord will give them what to say. They will not need “bread” or “silver,” because the Lord will provide all the goodness (“bread”) and all the truth (“silver”) they need. And they will not need an extra tunic because they will be clothed in truth from the Lord, and will not need anything additional from themselves.
In this case, less is more. When there is less of self, there is more of God. 2
Shaking off the dust:
Jesus then says to them, “And into whatever house you enter, there remain, and thence go out. And as many as shall not accept you, when you come out of that city, shake off even the dust from your feet for a testimony against them” (Luke 9:4-5). A “house,” as we have mentioned before, represents the human mind. It is the place where we think things over, consider our options, and dwell on those matters that are significant to us. Our “house,” then, is our spiritual residence, our “dwelling-place.”
Spiritually speaking, everyone has a dwelling-place — a set of beliefs about themselves, about others, and about God. Because of this, some people will accept the teachings of the apostles gladly, while others will reject them. Knowing this in advance, Jesus tells them that if their teachings are rejected, the apostles should leave the house, come out of the city, and “shake the dust from off their feet.”
In sacred scripture, the term “dust” refers to things that are low and relate to the world of the external senses. Just as dust settles to the earth, there is a tendency to remain focused on things that gratify our worldly senses without lifting our minds to higher things. In the Hebrew Scriptures, this is represented by the lowly serpent who deceived Eve. As it is written, “So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this … you shall eat dust all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:14). 3
Jesus’ instruction to “shake off the dust” is sound advice, not only for the apostles, but for each of us. Along the spiritual journey, as we are learning truth and putting it into our lives, we may, at times, find ourselves being dragged down to lower things — those things that are merely worldly and temporal. This is, spiritually, “the dust on our feet.” Whether the dust comes through the negative influence of others or the self-serving thoughts we entertain, Jesus tells us to “shake the dust from off our feet,” and continue our journey. 4
This is precisely what the apostles do. As it is written in the next verse, “And going out, they passed into the villages, announcing the gospel and curing everywhere” (Luke 9:6).
1. Arcana Coelestia 679: “In the Word ‘gathering’ has reference to the things that are in a person’s memory, where they have been gathered together. In addition, the phrase “gathered together” refers to the gathering together of the goods and truths that need to be gathered together in a person before regeneration can take place. Indeed, unless goods and truths have been gathered together to serve as means through which the Lord may do His work, a person cannot possibly be regenerated.” See also Arcana Coelestia 2089: “Each of the twelve disciples represents an essential and primary aspect of faith.”
2. Arcana Coelestia 9942: “Those who are in goods and truths from the Lord possess nothing of good and truth from themselves. Rather, they have all truth and good from the Lord…. Therefore, having ‘two tunics’ signifies having truth from both the Lord and from self. This is why they were allowed to have only one tunic.”
3. Arcana Coelestia 249: “The term ‘dust’ signifies those who do not regard spiritual and celestial things, but only what is corporeal and earthly.” See also Arcana Coelestia 7418: “"In the Word, ‘dust’ signifies what is lowly.”
4. Arcana Coelestia 249: “Because ‘dust’ signifies focusing on things that are bodily and earthly, while not considering things that are spiritual and heavenly, the Lord told His disciples that if the city or house into which they entered was not worthy, they should ‘shake the dust from off their feet.’” See also Arcana Coelestia 3748[1-2]: “There are hellish spirits who think they know everything…. They want to reason about spiritual matters even though they do not know even the first thing about these matters. Their reasoning is like scattered dust where nothing coheres.”