“As for whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to trip and fall into sin, it would be better for them to have a huge stone hung around their necks and to be thrown into the lake. If your hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off. It’s better for you to enter into life crippled than to go away with two hands into the fire of [gehenna], which can’t be put out. If your foot causes you to fall into sin, chop it off. It’s better for you to enter life lame than to be thrown into [gehenna] with two feet. If your eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out. It’s better for you to enter God’s kingdom with one eye than to be thrown into [gehenna] with two. That’s a place where worms don’t die and the fire never goes out. Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? Maintain salt among yourselves and keep peace with each other.”
In the Greek text, this passage starts with the conjunction καί, meaning “and.” This shows us that it’s tied to what’s gone on previously. In this case, it was Jesus instruction to the disciples about having faith like a child. Jesus isn’t actually talking about children. He’s using them as a poetic image to explain how people should follow The Way he established.
This is some of the most graphic language Jesus ever used. And I’ve seen this passage used to talk about the “temptations of the flesh.” It’s been used to instill fear into people. The “sin” he’s referring to here is not alcohol or drugs or dancing or gambling or whatever. Of course, those things can be the ruin of some people. But the “sin” he’s referring to here is shattering the childlike faith of his followers.
And what’s really sad is we see this all the time. I’ve been apart of some faith communities that feel it’s their job to show others “how things really are.” They steal the naïveté of people in the name of “growing up.” Doing this is not a kindness, but an act of impurity, falseness, sin.
I purposefully used the Greek word “Gehenna” instead of the English word “hell” here because we have so much baggage when we see or hear the word “hell.” I’m trying to get us back to understanding The Way as Jesus taught and practiced it instead of an Empirical Religious understanding of it. “Gehenna” means “the valley of the son of Hinnom.” It’s an actual valley outside the ancient city of Jerusalem. Although there is a lot of misunderstanding about Gehenna (some say it was a junk yard, others an accursed place, still others a burial and cremation site) one thing is certain - Jesus is not talking about people being conscious and tortured for “eternity” (another Empirical Religious word). What Jesus is talking about is purification. According to some Jewish scholars, Gehenna was, “The place of spiritual punishment and/or purification for the wicked dead. According to most sources, the period of punishment or purification is limited to 12 months, after which the soul ascends to Olam Ha-Ba (the Afterlife) or is destroyed (if it’s utterly wicked).”
The Greek word for “fire” that Jesus used makes this point as well. It’s the word “πῦρ” and it’s used for transformation or purification - light from darkness, purity from impurity. It purifies all that it touches. What it destroys is that which is impure. St. Paul stated the same thing in his first letter to those living The Way in Corinth. He wrote,
“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved - even though only as one escaping through the flames.”
Jesus’ point about removing body parts, then, is that it’s better to purify oneself now rather than being purified later. And that which needs to be purified is purposely destroying childlike faith.
There is nothing wrong with challenging ones beliefs. We all need that. But there is a difference in correcting other’s views and practices and destroying them altogether.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC