23 February
Mk 9:41-50

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.  If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."

“Hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.”  This is a direct quotation from Isaiah 66:24. It is a terrifying image.  It referred to a rubbish dump outside Jerusalem.  There was a reason why it was a rubbish dump: it had been something worse before.  ‘Gehenna’ is another version of the word ‘Hinnom’, a valley just beside the city of Jerusalem.  It was the valley in which Ahaz had set up pagan forms of worship: fire and human sacrifice.  “He burnt incense in the valley of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire” (2 Chronicles 28:3).  The later reaction to this was horror. Jeremiah cursed the valley (7:32; 19:6f).  It was declared unclean, and it became a rubbish dump.  Worms bred on the refuse, and the parts of it that had been set on fire smouldered continually, as rubbish dumps do.  It became an image of hell. 

Remember, this is poetry!  “If your hand, if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off!” Jesus spoke like a poet, not like a lawyer.  If you want images of hell look into your own nightmares, which are a kind of terrible poetry too.  Think of the worst that could happen to you.  Make it an image of the loss of God. 

 

 
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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 

 

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