‘Hell’ is a translation of the Greek Gehenna. Gehenna was Jerusalem’s rubbish dump where “literally, the fire was not quenched and the worm never died” (Lane 1974, p. 346 fn 74). By Jesus’ day Gehenna “had already become a metaphor for the fate, after death, of those who reject God’s way” (Wright 2004, p. 128). However, Jesus does seem to use Gehenna as a reference to divine judgment.
Prepare to listen. Prepare to listen to God’s Word and pray: The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your statutes. (Psalm 119:64)
Read Mark 9:42-50
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. 49‘For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt 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.’
Once in a while a sincere person reads these startling instructions about cutting off the stumbling-causing hand, foot, eye quite literally. Either they do it to themselves or, as is still the case in some religions today, they use it as punishment for an offender—they stole with their hand, so it gets cut off. It’s an alarming and inhumane practice, whether the person willingly does it to themselves to prevent further ‘stumbling’ or whether it is meted out as punishment. I think it’s safe to say that Jesus never intended these words to be taken literally. Rather, he’s highlighting the importance of living holy lives, set apart for God and God alone. Perhaps that will mean embarking on a strict aesthetic practice of self-denial of whatever comes between me and Jesus (be that chocolate or social media or football, whatever) in order to live a more disciplined and self-controlled life. The warning is dire, and we must pay attention to how we live. Holiness isn’t an option.
The subject seems to change as Mark brings Jesus’ teaching at this stage to a close, linked only by the word fire in v49. The topic shifts as a new word is introduced—salt. Salt is used for many things and perhaps Jesus has some of that in mind—to preserve, to cleanse, to add flavor, and so on. However, Jesus more than likely was thinking of Old Testament usage. Salt was required for the Jewish sacrifices that was to be sprinkled on the animal or grain offering. It was also a symbol of peace. This is most likely what Jesus’ usage here, since he concludes with: ‘be at peace with one another.’ Paul understood this and so instructed the Colossian Church: ‘Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone’ (Col 4:6).
Commit yourself today to speech that is gracious, seasoned with salt; speech that will maintain peace and bring wholeness, not division and pain.
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Lord Jesus, may my speech today be seasoned with salt. Guard my tongue and keep me alert; give me wisdom when to speak and when to hold my tongue that your peace reigns through me today. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world, seasoned with salt.
This is the last devotion in Mark for now. Much of Mark 10-16 are covered in my Mark devotions for Lent 2018.