“And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ Everyone will be salted with fire.” (Mk 9:47-49)
A serious interpretation of these words does not equal a literal interpretation. The church has never advised self-mutilation as a means to salvation. Obviously feet, hands or eyes do not make us sin. Rather, we practice either virtue or sin through their use. But if we are not take these words literally, then how should we interpret them to take them seriously?
Gehenna is probably a compound word derived from Hebrew ge-hinnom, for Valley of Hinnom, the dumping grounds of Jerusalem where a continuous fire consumed everyone’s refuse. Popularly the imagery of fire has been associated with punishment because burning is painful. But that is not what the Biblical language suggests.
Fire, in the Scriptures, is often linked with purfication. Fire burns what is flammable, and often impure, but respects what is inflammable. And so gold is purified through fire because fire will burn the impurities leaving behind only pure gold.
Amputation is, however, an image of punishment in the Old Testamen (Dt 25:12). In other words, what this text seems to imply to someone familiar with the Jewish practices and the customs of Jerusalem is, it is better to be punished in time (even if it is through mutilation) than to be definitively wasted (like Jerusalem’s refuse).
The symbol of salt seems to be linked, according to some scholars, to Lv 2:13 where salt that accompannies sacrifices is described as “salt of the covenant with your God” and similarly in Ex 30:35, salt is associated wit the qualities “pure and holy”. So, how should we read “to be salted with fire”?
It seems to point out to the fact that if the sinner has to be pure and holy (salted), which is a necessity (v. 50), one must either enter the Kingdom of God through timely punishment or through a fiery purification that will eventually purify us, although through a more regretable process.