Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Matthew 24:15-31) transports me to a panicky time of chaos and confusion, a run for your life time when deceivers and con artists clamor for the attention of people desperate to find a superhero to rescue them from the mahem of life gone crazy bad. And in the midst of the clamor, imagine a scene where a mysterious big-footed monster, the abominable Yeti, runs through holy places tipping sacred cows. It’s a time to run for cover and not look back. Giant footprints in church foyers is a sign for the nursing mothers in the crying room to hightail it and head for the hills.
Abomination of desolation. It’s a fantastic apocalyptic term found first in the book of Daniel and then here in the gospels. Earlier believers would have understood the phrase describing not a giant creature named Yeti, but a real life ruler named Antiochus Epiphanes, the second century BC Greek ruler who massacred 40,000 Jews and carried 40,000 more into slavery when he sacked Jerusalem in 167 BC. He added insult to the horrific injury by desecrating the Jewish temple, erecting a statue of Zeus there and sacrificing swine on the sacred altar. More than 100 years later, believers would have associated the abomination of desolation with Roman Emperor Nero and his general Vespasian, whose brutal response to the Jewish revolt in 69-70 AD led to the destruction of the Temple. I don’t think many scholars would follow my lead in seeing the abomination prophecy as a foretelling of the coming of the Tibetan snowman wreaking havoc on holy sites.
It is interesting to look closely at the words themselves. Abomination comes from old Latin words, ab (away from) + omin (omen), that is, a bad omen to steer clear of. Desolation is also old Latin, de (completely) + solare (make lonely). Taken together, this sacrilege refers to bad omens that leave you completely alone. These are isolating events, designed to break down community. Taken away from its apocalyptic mystery, we can hear Jesus’ words as a warning to the faithful (the elect) to shun all the clear and present dangers that threaten to divide or break down the beloved community. Greed, prejudice, violence, these are all abominable desolations. They are bad omens that lead to isolation and utter loneliness as the community disintegrates. You had better pick ‘em up and set ‘em down as fast as you can whenever these monsters come. Don’t stop to try and get a picture of the abominable to send to the Enquirer. Put as much distance as you can between you and the bad omens, the greed, the violence, the prejudice. Run for your life. I’m reminded of the Monty Python Holy Grail scene, where the knights come to the cave of a dreaded, fierce creature. It turns out to be a rabbit, and the knights can’t believe there is anything to fear, until they see the rabbit in action. I’ll leave you with King Arthur’s call to action: Run away! Run away!
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith?