By James Cornwell
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 13:14-27
14 “But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 15 someone on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; 16 someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 17 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not be in winter. 19 For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. 21 And if anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Look! There he is!’ — do not believe it. 22 False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be alert; I have already told you everything.
24 “But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”
Today’s gospel reading is a warning from Jesus laced with apocalyptic imagery. This particular passage deals with the “abomination of desolation” and images of tribulations for the faithful. Our modern ears may hear this as the description of a distant future, but if we listen with the ears of the early Church, we may hear something that is much more imminent.
Rather than a future foe, the abomination of desolation represents the various antichrists already present in our world — those people and powers who tempt us, through false promises, to give them the devotion due only to Christ. Origen, St. Augustine, and Hippolytus read into Jesus’ imagery immediate guidance for how to survive their trials. When Jesus speaks of the housetop, Origen hears that we are to have a “lofty, exalted mind,” which will keep a watchful vigil on high, rather than scramble about for things below (Homilies on Jeremiah, 12.13). When Jesus shows concern for the pregnant and nursing, St. Augustine hears a lament for those growing worldly desires within them, and those who have become dependent on the fulfillment of those desires (On the Psalms, 96.14). When Jesus warns about the winter, Hippolytus hears a warning against complacency in a post-harvest season of rest (Against Gaius, 5).
It can be tempting to gloss over warnings of the end times. But, as the text says, “let the reader understand”: these are not merely warnings of some future age, but a call to prayerful reflection upon and the building up of our present virtue. Jesus’ prophecy teaches us ways to prepare for abominations of desolation in any age: build our minds up with things of heaven, do not become dependent on inordinate desires of the flesh, and do not grow lazy in our vigilance and labors as we make our way through this uncertain life in the hope of the next. Far from describing future battles, this text sounds an immediate call to spiritual arms.
James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their six children.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Egba (Church of Nigeria)
Zabriskie Memorial Church of St. John the Evangelist