Matthew 24:15-22

“So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; the one on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” Matthew 24:15-22

Some people will remember this past NFL season for Philadelphia’s upset victory in the Super Bowl. Far more will remember it for the controversy generated by players kneeling during the singing of the national anthem. The players said they did what they did as a way of drawing attention to the disproportionate treatment of people of color in our culture. Others said their behaviors heaped sacrilegious scorn on the flag and unpatriotic contempt for people serving in law enforcement and the military.

Wherever you came down on that issue, it gave you a taste of what it would have felt like for Jews to see the Romans abusing, and eventually crushing, the holy practices and cultural center of the Jewish temple. This – using the temple to promote political idolatry – happened several times in Jewish history and is the “desolating sacrilege” spoken of in Daniel.

By the time Matthew was written, those living in Judea and Jerusalem would have already experienced the great suffering of which he writes. It was deep suffering caused, not by religion as it is so often blamed, but by the political arrogance and military might of the Romans.

Recently I have been watching “World War II in Color” on Netflix. It is very difficult to listen to the analytical dispassionate voice of the narrator while watching indiscriminate fire-bombing of cities, ships blown up, planes crashing, the discovery of the death camps, and the various atrocities committed along the way. Why? Because an egomaniac conned an entire country by blaming and scapegoating Jews and ethnic minorities while appealing to the myth of their own cultural superiority.

This is what happened during the first century of the Christian movement and it is what has happened throughout history as people have rejected the Jesus way of being in the world while fiercely keeping a stranglehold on worldly power, wealth, and privilege. That inevitably gives way to suffering. Not redemptive suffering. Not suffering born of compassion. But suffering produced by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong skin color, or the wrong family heritage.

We miss the point if we read Matthew’s words and project them to some point in the far off future. We can only hear them well when we see them reflected throughout history, including in our own day, and see them for what they say.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we know that the hardness of our hearts creates our blindness to the realities of life. When you soften our hearts, you heal our blindness. You attune our ears to hear, our eyes to see. Today we pray for all who suffer at the hands of the powerful and those grasping for power. We pray for peacemakers and activists who challenge conventional thinking and give voice to the powerless and oppressed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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One Response to “Matthew 24:15-22”

  1. Carolee Groux Says:

    Recently I saw the musical “Parade”. It is a powerful and influential play on antisemitism in 1914 Atlanta, Georgia. This kind of racial hatred can rise up at any time, even today. We all need to stand up for the powerless and the oppressed.

    If you or any of your readers get the chance to read or to see this powerful musical it will be well worth your time. (Also the music and songs are very beautiful.)

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