Gehenna is for the Church

A really interesting gospel for this coming Sunday, now that we're back in Mark in this year of Mark:
John spoke to [Jesus] saying, "Teacher, we observed someone casting out influential spirits in your name, and we interfered because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not interfere, for there is no one who can wield authority on the basis of my name and speak ill of me—indeed, those who are not against us are for us. Should someone give you a glass of water for the fact that you are the messiah's, I assure you they will not waste their pay! And should someone slander one of these little ones who trust in me, it would be far better for them if a millstone—you know, the kind it takes a mule to turn?—were placed around their neck and thrown into the sea. And should your hand slander you, strike it off; it is better for you to enter into life maimed than to depart with two hands into Gehenna, the unquenchable fire. And should your foot slander you, strike it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame than to be thrown with two feet into Gehenna. And should your eye slander you, pull it out; it is better for you to enter into the reign of God one-eyed than to be thrown with two eyes into Gehenna—where the maggots don't stop and the fire isn't quenched. Indeed, everything will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but should salt become un-salt, with what can it be spiced? Have salt among yourselves, and live peaceably with one another."
Isaiah 66 is the origin of this last bit, and the Gehenna reference. And in verse 5 we have this: "Listen to the word of YHWH, those who tremble in fear of his word: Your siblings who hate you and exclude you in my name have said, 'Glorify YHWH that we may see your joy'; but it is they who will be shamed." Those who rely on God will receive peace and comfort from God, but that group doesn't include those who oppress their own brothers and sisters among the people. The oppressors without and the oppressors within will receive God's wrath, and die horribly, and God will make a new world for those who are honestly faithful—but the wreck of the old will be so large relative to them that the maggots eating the bodies and the fires to dispose of the corpses will go on forever.

When your brothers and sisters who exclude you and cut you off from the body in disgust demand that you conform to them to be counted as righteous, and use the demand that you praise God as a demand that you obey their narrow religious culture, God gets pretty pissed off. This is the complete opposite of our popular American piety: the sinners whose bodies will burn forever in Gehenna are fundamentalists who unite their worldview so tightly with trust in God that conformity to their piety becomes the criterion for God's glory and your joy. This is why the tax collectors and prostitutes are among the first to enter into the reign of God!

It is not our job to cut others off from Christ. If we become the kind that do, it would be better for us to cut ourselves off from Christ, to dismember ourselves from the body, than to see the body of which we are a part burn with the delirium of our fever. We are not going to be rewarded for speaking ill of God, or the deliverance God has accomplished, or the one by whom that deliverance has been accomplished, or the ones for whom that deliverance has been accomplished. It is absolutely and entirely not our job to get in the way. Do not interfere with salvation! Do not get in the way of the power that can displace the powers of this world. Do not, do not, DO NOT get between the Lioness and her cubs!

It is far better for you to be a universalist, and to allow that God has done and is doing the work, than to find yourself on the outs with God for deciding among the saved according to your own criteria of belongingness. Have yourself a little spiritual barbecue, in which you use salt and fire upon those parts of your self that are inclined toward this kind of hubris. Because Isaiah 66 may be hyperbole, but it's hyperbole with a point. Do not persecute. Do not oppress. Live peaceably, rather than exacting a kind of "peace" for your way of life by using force against others.


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