If you are reading this column hoping to get some insight into Mark 9:49-50, you can stop now. These verses are intensely obscure; the commentaries offer little help; neither I nor anyone I know has received a special revelation explaining the text. Let us simply agree to move on to other matters. By this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has started to speak openly about his impending death.
Lent carries in its bosom a seductive danger: excessive inwardness. The seduction is this: a season of prayer, repentance and preparation for Good Friday and Easter necessarily involves trips to the heart, but tarry there too long and repentance can stall out as melancholy. The danger is this: self-examination may spawn attempts at self-improvement, with the result that looking at self replaces looking to God, and small measures of merit replace the immeasurable grace of God.
Eternal punishment. Like it or not, it is a biblical concept, albeit a late-blooming one. In the Old Testament, the afterlife is rarely spoken of, and when it is, it is usually pictured as a shadowy, wraithlike existence.