Where the Hell is Gehenna?

Gospel / Matthew 10:26-33

Jesus said to the Twelve: “Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”


I recently put a small bird feeder just outside the window of my office.  I have been seeing all types of red and yellow finches, blue jays, bluebirds, woodpeckers, cardinals, doves, and the occasional oriole.  It is a “rainbow” reminder of God’s Miracles and His Promise to us all.  It is just pure Beauty.  But, the real color display only really happened after I put a new food in the feeder – it’s called “hot meat”.  You see, birds don’t have taste buds and can’t taste the seeds that are coated in jalapeno pepper powder.  But, the squirrels and chipmunks are a different story.  It only takes one-time for one of these rodents to taste the “Wrath of God” powder on the food.  They never return and I am left to wonder at the symphony-like feeding frenzy in amazing Technicolor!  In this week’s Gospel, God feeds the sparrows and they are used as a metaphor for how much more He cares about us.  But, just like the sparrows (God’s children) in this weeks’ Gospel (and in my bird feeders), God has a secret Food that he uses to separate the goats from the Sheep.  We learn in this week’s Gospel about souls and bodies being destroyed in a far away place called Gehenna.  I couldn’t remember such a place in all my years of studies.  It turns out that it’s what we have collectively referred to as Hell (see below).  You see, God uses His Own “Spiritual Hot Meat” to set us on the Proper course in His direction.  Without a Place to walk towards (e.g. Heaven) and a Place to avoid (e.g. Gehenna/Hell), we don’t really have our True North to lead us Home.  I guess you could say that we all need a little “Hot Meat” reminder from time-to-time.


Gehenna, (/ɡɪˈhɛnə/; גיא בן הינום‎ Ancient Greek: γέεννα), from the Hebrew Gehinnom (Rabbinical: גהנום‎/גהנם‎), is a small valley in Jerusalem and the Jewish and Christian analogue of hell. The terms are derived from a place outside ancient Jerusalem known in the Hebrew Bible as the Valley of the Son of Hinnom (Hebrew: גֵיא בֶן־הִנֹּם‎ or גיא בן-הינום‎, Gai Ben-Hinnom). The Valley of Hinnom is the modern name for the valley surrounding Jerusalem’s Old City, including Mount Zion, from the west and south. It meets and merges with the Kidron Valley, the other principal valley around the Old City, near the southeastern corner of the city. In the Hebrew Bible, Gehenna was initially where some of the kings of Judah sacrificed their children by fire. Thereafter it was deemed to be cursed (Jer. 7:31, 19:2-6). In Jewish Rabbinic literature, and Christian and Islamic scripture, Gehenna is a destination of the wicked. This is different from the more neutral Sheol/Hades, the abode of the dead, although the King James Version of the Bible usually translates both with the Anglo-Saxon word Hell. In the King James Version of the Bible, the term appears 13 times in 11 different verses as “Valley of Hinnom”, “Valley of the son of Hinnom” or “Valley of the children of Hinnom.”

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