Mark 9:42-48

42 ‘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. 43If 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. 45And 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. 47And 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, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

On the surface, this is one of the most difficult passages in the gospels. I would like to peel back a few of the layers to look deeper into these words.

First, we have to look at the word “hell.” There are four Greek words used in the New Testament for the translated English word of “hell.” The word used here is “gehenna,” Gehenna was a valley on the edge of Jerusalem that was a smoldering, burning, nasty garbage heap in that day. Our modern notion of hell (with devils and pitchforks) comes mostly from John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Second, N.T. Wright has a great interpretation of this passage. Wright claims that Jesus is talking about the body of the Law (the Torah). If something in the Law wasn’t working for the people, it is better that it should be cut off than for the whole people to suffer. Jesus is not talking about our physical body parts, but the parts of the Law that are inhibiting us from truly following God. This is not out of character for the Gospel of Mark, for much of the teaching in this gospel is about the diminution of the law.

Along those lines, what are the things in your life that could be cut off and thrown away? What are the rules that you have created for yourself that are stopping you from knowing God fully?

The Rev. Jimmy Abbott