The Scriptures for today call us to pay attention to what's going on in the world around us and to develop a perspective that will help us distinguish between false messiahs and the message of Jesus. Each of us is invited to inwardly digest this biblical story and to identify similar situations or stories in our life. The Good News is that it is an old story, a necessary story, part of the story of our salvation.
The passage begins with a warning about "the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be." There is scholarly controversy about whether this refers to some specific historical event or is a general apocalyptic warning. This ambiguity is liberating because it invites us to wonder what such a desolating sacrilege or abominable desecration might be. What is the repudiation of holiness for you? What is the event or circumstances that might shatter your world? Is it infidelity, bankruptcy, or diagnosis of an incurable illness? All of these have signaled the end in people' lives--the end of relationship, of security, a desecration of a life that had been full of hope and promise. Yet how might we respond as people of faith? By resisting the temptation to explain the Biblical "desolating sacrilege" with a specific historical event perhaps we can begin to understand how this story aims to encourage it's hearers to develop a larger perspective on life, to find meaning in the harshest events life has to offer.
"Flee!" Jesus counsels his hearers. Running away is usually dismissed as the cowardly response. Yet he doesn't then say to cower and hide. It may be the essential distance needed to get an accurate perspective on what is happening and to plan a strategic response. Women fleeing domestic violence are choosing life. In safety they can discern what it is they need to do next. One cannot underestimate the value of this kind of "space" or distance. It preserves us from reacting angrily and destructively. We get a chance to re-group and to respond. Taking a deep breath at the moment we feel an angry response welling up in us is another way to create a sense of space, a necessary distance in order to remember who we are and to respond prayerfully.
The story concludes with a warning about false messiahs and prophets. These, presumably, are the people with messages that divert us from the truth, offering cheap solace in the face of the hardest moments of life. Distinguishing between those who say what we want to hear and those who might be speaking an uncomfortable truth requires spiritual maturity. The easy answers, the comfortable answers to the dilemmas of life, do not offer the hope of transforming or re-framing a situation.
By warning of difficult times, Jesus points to the time when all that he has done and taught will need to be utilized. What are the ways that we can be tempted away from the Gospel? Vengeance is tempting and, on the other hand, passivity is equally easy for us. Choosing pleasure over responsibility is another temptation. And never taking a moment to enjoy life can be another temptation. Life cannot be lived by a formula, and Jesus is urging his followers to be alert, to wake up, to grow up, be ready to advance the cause of the kingdom when the opportunity presents itself.
Learning where God is calling us often requires a breathing space, a physical or psychic distance, to discern. It is another way of saying: make space for grace to happen! It's the perspective that we are powerless over other people and what they do, and yet if we open ourselves to God we may be able to respond in ways we cannot even imagine.
Where is this story happening for you? Where in your home, office, church, or civic community do you see all that you hold dear being profaned? How do you make space for God in moments of crisis? What are the ways you can pull back from impulsive reactions and regroup to respond creatively? Who are the false messiahs who distract you from the way of understanding, acceptance, compassion, mercy, truth, and justice?