This passage is the only one where Mark mentions ‘hell’ – 3 times in total.
Luke only mentions it once (Luke 12:5); Matthew 7 times. Never in John’s gospel or the writings of Paul. Once in James 3 and once in 2 Peter 2. Total of 13 mentions – always the word ‘Gehenna’
Gehenna is, literally, the valley of Hinnom, on the south-west slopes of Jerusalem. From ancient times it was used as a garbage dump, smouldering with a continual fire. Already by the time of Jesus some Jews used it as an image for the place of punishment after death. Jesus’ own usage blends the two meanings in his warnings both to Jerusalem itself (unless it repents, the whole city will become a smouldering heap of garbage) and to people in general (to beware of God’s final judgment).
When we read scripture it is always a cross-cultural exploration into ancient history. The Bible was not written for us in contemporary English.
Oh hell! It’s the only place in the Gospel of Mark that we find this word three times here in the Gospel of Mark. In the Gospel of Luke, it’s only once that Jesus uses this word that we translate as hell. Matthew likes the word, it seems more often or it refers to quote the sayings of Jesus. He has the similar sayings that we get in the gospel tonight in the Sermon on the Mountain. So you get those three occurrences. And then one of them about the eyes. It’s better to lose one eye than to have two eyes and to go to hell. He repeats that one twice. And then there are three other times, and then in the whole of the New Testament there are two more occurrences of this word: in the letter of James chapter 3 and then in the 2nd letter of Saint Peter in Chapter 2. Never in John, Acts or Paul. So in total there are 13 instances.
And every time it’s the Greek word Gehenna – an actual place – it’s the translation of the valley of Hinnom. If when you go and visit Jerusalem and in fact the Gahanna, it looks quite nice most of the time the Israeli authorities have really converted and changed and renovated it. The whole of that value, that whole system, and it’s beautifully landscaped now with little areas where you can sit and have picnics and so you know there’s lots of people who are having picnics in hell at the moment. At the time of Jesus, though, Gehenna was not a nice place. Gehenna was the garbage dump. It was the place where there were fires constantly burning. It was the place where animals would come and they would eat the different pieces of meat that would have been thrown out. And so you would hear the sound of teeth, gnashing and the growls and all of that. It also stunk and reeked. There would have been profound smells that would have been terribly offensive, but I think it’s significant for us to know that when Jesus uses this image of Gehenna, what we translated as Hell it’s not some vague kind of idea, it’s everyone knows exactly what they have in mind, just as when we use the word Auschwitz, we have immediately evoked within us terrible images of horrors that are not best, repeated or mentioned. And yet we need to repeat the story, or we can talk about the beach at Gallipoli, and I’m sure it’s a nice kind of beach, but in the Australian psyche, that place has profound symbolism of the slaughter of so many young Australian men and that fateful day. When we attempted to take that beachhead so places and symbols all have their meaning, and whenever we read the scriptures. It’s important to remember that we are transporting ourselves back in time. We’re going into a very different culture to try and make sense of what does this text have for us first, of course, we as always need to situate it within the context. So that opening line of John coming to Jesus and telling him that they’ve come across some exorcists who are using the name of Jesus, and it seems successfully to drive out demons.
And John says, look, we stop them because they’re not one of the followers. They’re not one of this little group of merry men that you’ve gathered around. You know the context of that is just a few paragraphs earlier after amazing event of the transfiguration that we read about the beginning of chapter nine, we hear that Jesus and. For those three disciples, John being one of them, comes down from the mountain top experience and they come across the rest of the disciples. Is in a fight that they’re arguing with this man and Jesus said, you know what’s going on here?
And this father says, look, you know, I asked your disciples to bring out the demon that is in my son. It’s terrible he’s throwing him on the ground and the scene that is is just awful to hear about. You know what? What it must have been like. For a father to witness this kind of event of his helpless son and he said, your disciples weren’t able to do anything they weren’t able to cast out the demons, even though in chapter 5 that we have Jesus sending out the 12 disciples and commissioning them specifically with that authority to cast out demons to do the mighty deeds that Jesus was doing, so they had this authority, they given this power. And yet they’re not, they’re not exercising it to exercise these demons, and so there’s perhaps a little bit of jealousy that we see that. Unfortunately, these people who aren’t part of the 12 are doing the very things that they themselves weren’t able to do in that situation. In the beginning of this chapter, Jesus has to step in and to set this young boy free from. The demon and allow him to find that freedom and you know to be released to be able to be restored. To his father we get that kind of prejudice often. Unfortunately, in our world and in our society, in our church we get that sense that no, you know it’s only Catholics who are able to do these wonderful deeds and people that aren’t part of our faith are part of a religion. Well, they’re not as good as us.
They’re not part of this community. I mean, it’s part of human nature, and it’s always unfortunate. Being there, that’s why there are so many passages in the pages of the New Testament that pray for us to be united. They pray for us to get over those small boundaries and divisions that we create and to separate us from those around us. And Jesus offers us this profound teaching there anyone who’s not Against us is for us – if only we could hold on to that truth. If only we could trust the essential goodness of human nature. Yes, there are times when we need to make distinctions. There are times when we need to set ourselves right and then he goes and sits out. A number of those situations you know anyone, that is an obstacle in the life. Of a person of little faith, and it’s better than a millstone. This big weighted rock. If you put around them and they will be cast into the water. It’s not a pleasant experience.
On a pleasant image that Jesus uses. And then he gives us these three examples. You know, if you’ve got two hands and realizing that one of them is causing you to sin, well? Chop it off and it’s better to go through life maimed than to lose the whole life and to be cast into Gehenna into this valley of smells and horrors. What is he talking about there? What is the invitation of these three instances to lose our feet to lose our eye to lose our hand now? Is it literal? Is he inviting us to literally do this? And the different commentaries I read seemed to be. Fairly divided, most of saying no. Of course it’s not literal. For those were saying actually it seems like it. It is like he’s in actually inviting us to realize and to notice that sometimes in in our way through life we need to actually recognize that some things are worth losing.
There are some things that we shouldn’t. Hold onto some aspects of ourselves. Our sinful selves, especially that we need to just exercise. We need to get rid of. We need to be free of those things in order to find out ultimate freedom. In God, that is, if this is what Jesus is inviting us into this life that is about love. That is about actually giving of ourselves, and we’re building up to this final declaration that we’re here in a couple of weeks time. Of the way that Jesus understands his whole ministry admission. The whole way of self surrender of giving himself so freely and so completely in order to ransom the whole of our lives, but there are times when we need to face things full on, we need to acknowledge that there are areas in my life where I’m being selfish or I’m being small or I’m actually leading other people astray. And in those situations, in those circumstances we need to boldly make choices that sometimes. Will involve sacrifice that sometimes will involve us dying to ourselves in order to bring about that greater good in order to be free. To love, we need to face those realities in our lives and we need to experience what he’s got inviting us into. Whenever we’re confronted with these situations, our first instinct shouldn’t be to get out the hacksaw or the knife and start hacking away. Our first instinct should be simply to place ourselves before the love of God to place ourselves in his presence. Mostly it’s not going to be the way of actually physically cutting things. Body parts off in order to find freedom. Indeed, those people in church history that have literally followed this example haven’t been canonized by the church, ’cause we’re not wanting to encourage people to be literal in this sense, but we need to acknowledge and recognize that sometimes, well, always the way of following Jesus will. Involve dying to ourselves.
It will involve sacrifice. It will involve getting rid of all things. But don’t bring us to that freedom that we can only find in God. What that will be will vary depending on a particular nature and that particular situation, circumstance, history, psychology, all of the different elements that make up our rich lives. But we’re invited today simply to hear the voice. Of the God who’s inviting us to love and recognize yes I wanna do that Lord I wanna follow you I want to give myself to you and there will be a cost.
There will be a price that I need to pay in order to find that freedom, but for you with you. In you I’m prepared to do that. Help me Lord today to be free to give myself so completely to you, to allow your love and your call to set me free from anything that will separate me from you.