The woman says she is haunted above all by the callous laughter of the boys whom she alleges assaulted her when she was young. She is haunted by their laughter and by the ease with which she could have been killed, her breath stopped as a mere by-product of a drunken, fumbled, offense.
Gehenna is haunted by child sacrifice. It’s near Jerusalem, a valley in which, in the days of the kingdom of Judah, some of the kings had sacrificed their children to the god Moloch. By the time of Jesus the name of this valley, Gehenna, conjured up a kind of hell.
The committee’s hearing was said to be hell by one distinguished senator.
The next morning, when the elevator doors opened, another senator was haunted by the voices of two women who charged him with sacrificing them. “You’re telling me right now that what happened to me doesn’t matter. Look at me when I’m talking to you. You’re telling me I don’t matter.”
Apparently if we cause one of the little ones to stumble, we will be better off drowning with a millstone around our necks, sinking down to the bottom of the sea.
Apparently, in this matter of harming the little ones, if our hand is what makes us offend, we would be better off amputating that hand.
Apparently, if our eye is what makes us do harm to the vulnerable, we would be better off poking out that eye.
The alternative is Gehenna. Hell. Keep what belongs to you, what’s rightly yours—the hand, the eye—but live in an unrelenting hell.
Apparently, if we gave even a glass of water to a little one in the name of Christ, we would be richly rewarded.
Grown women are not little children.
Grown women may consider themselves to be authoritative professionals who do not cry in front of powerful committees. Grown women do not implore senators to listen to the story about the hand over the mouth, the fear of accidental death. Grown women do not point to the slander in the yearbook after so many years have passed.
Last week, in the gospel, Jesus picked up a little child, and he told his disciples to become like that child. Vulnerable. Susceptible to the callous indifference of others.
Grown women should be able to understand that without corroborating evidence our system of justice cannot render a verdict about the story of the hand over the mouth, the fumbling with the bathing suit.
Grown women should understand that it is not a priority to find evidence, corroborating or otherwise, at this late date.
Gehenna is a valley near the capitol, Jerusalem, in which the vulnerable have been sacrificed to a worldly god.
This week, in the gospel, Jesus is still holding that child. It’s still that same conversation about becoming one of the little ones who believe.
How can, how should, a grown woman become like a child? Under what circumstances? To justify her speech?
Was she ever like a child, if innocence was denied her as a child? If the hand had always been waiting to cover her mouth?
Or if innocence itself is what made her a target? How then? If her whole body offends, what can she amputate to avoid that hell?
What part of such a body would be hers to give away? The hand? A gift from her father to her groom. In marriage.
How shall she become a true disciple? In what sense shall she now put herself last?
Is discipleship for the invulnerable?
Do the powerful disavow their power to become followers of Jesus?
What should she then disavow?
Near the capitol there is a valley, Gehenna, a depression in the earth. It is indistinguishable from hell. It is where the most vulnerable have been sacrificed. It would be better to do without almost anything in life rather than to find oneself in that depression.
There is a kingdom in which the falsely accused and the naively trusting and the indifferent and the cynical, the powerless and the guilty, are all invited to live again, dine from the same table, eat the bread and drink the wine.
In that kingdom there is no fake spectacle of justice staged by the desperate at the expense of the weak.
That kingdom is to be sharply distinguished from the party at which drunkenness allows for impunity.
That party, the drunken one with the loud music in the room upstairs, is apparently a safe space for the already protected, those who have the money and the connections to allow them a moment’s pleasing oblivion, without consequence.
What happens there stays there.
The powerless cannot attend that party, even when they are already in the room. The powerless will never be present at that gathering. Oblivion is simply not granted to the weak without severe consequences.
But then there never really was a safe space in all of that drunken kingdom, not even for the king. Divine oblivion was always secretly a cheap consolation prize. In the end it was only beer, and the heir to the throne was only a boy who fumbled in a back room to gratify a desire he could never clearly name. Eventually the fumbling itself may have been forgotten.
He may not even have been the one.
That hand that covered the mouth. It may never have been his to begin with.
So many afternoons and evenings sacrificed to an earthly god whose promises were so vague. No calendar can tell them all.
There is a valley outside the capitol haunted by the ghostly souls of little ones who were never considered worth protecting in the first place. It would be better to go without almost anything in this life than to find oneself in that low place.