IT’S BETTER TO ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD WITH ONE EYE THAN WITH TWO EYES TO BE THROWN INTO HELL
(A biblical refection on THE 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME [YEAR B] – 30 September 2018)
Gospel Reading: Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48
First Reading: Numbers 11:25-29; Psalms: Psalm 19:8,10,12-14; Second Reading: James 5:1-6
The Scripture Text
John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in My name will be able soon after to speak evil of Me. For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48 RSV)
At one time, kings tried to marry the daughters of the king of a stronger nation because the stronger king would not likely declare war on a land where his daughter lived. However, kings who married foreign women often ended up worshipping their wife’s gods. In pagan countries, this did not cause a problem since pagans not only believed there were many gods but also often worshiped several gods at the same time. The Jews, on the other hand, believed there was only one true God. Therefore, Jewish kings who married foreign wives were exposing themselves to a dangerous influence that might lead them to be unfaithful to their Jewish beliefs. For this reason, the Old Testament prophets often warned the Jewish kings not to marry foreign women.
The Bible tells us that some of the Jewish kings did indeed take foreign wives and, as the prophets predicted, they began worshiping pagan gods. Because the pagans believed a few of these gods demanded human sacrifice, some Jewish kings sacrificed their own children to the gods in an attempt to appease them.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says that it would be better to cut off a hand and enter eternal life maimed than to end up in Gehenna with both hands intact. The Hebrew word Gehenna means “valley of Hinnom” which was a ravine located southeast of the city of Jerusalem where some Old Testament Jewish kings offered their children as holocaust sacrifices to the pagan god Molech. Its history led the Jews to believe the valley of Hinnom was good for nothing except for dumping garbage. Because the smell from the trash accumulating there was terrible and smoke from smoldering always covered the area. Gehenna was good only as a breeding place for worms thriving on the garbage.
Gehenna was so repulsive that some Jews who believed in a life after death used it as a symbol of the punishment awaiting all those who led wicked lives. Worms are those who were in Gehenna and flames continuously consumed them. According to some of the rabbis, the only relief came on the Sabbath, when God had mercy and caused the fires to cease. Biblical scholars sometimes translate Gehenna as “hell”, even though the two concepts differ in significant ways.
(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 208-209.)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, You show Your almighty power in Your mercy and forgiveness. Continue to fill us with Your gifts of love. Help us to hurry toward the eternal life You promise and come to share in the joys of Your Kingdom. We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Jakarta, 28 September 2018
A Christian Pilgrim