The earliest gospel is Mark’s. The others follow his lead regarding plot and characters. Matthew and Luke add Birth Narratives we especially love this time of year. Writing styles differ. The treatment of miracles, parables, Passion and Resurrection are varied and provide great material to compare/contrast in preaching (hooray!). But Mark is the prototype the rest follow.
Mark’s 13th chapter is the strange outlier, not picked up by any other evangelist. This exciting mini-apocalypse appears this time of year in the lectionary and includes the New Testament’s only effort to break the fourth wall. Mark’s aside to the audience “let the reader understand” is deigned to get our attention, but surreptitiously. It seems to have been so subtle it may have gone right over the heads of Matthew, Luke and John.
But not us.
Mark was writing in a unique time and setting; namely, before the Temple had been destroyed by the Romans. This likely was the reason for the other 3 ignoring the passage, actually. Before the State exercised its considerable power to neuter and manipulate religion for its own coercive purposes, as happened in 70 CE. Before the fall of the Temple along with its spiritual and financial economy. Before religion ended as we knew it. Mark saw it all coming and compared the cataclysm to the end of the entire world.
The Desolating Sacrilege is language borrowed from Daniel (whose setting of state persecution and anticipation of imminent destruction closely foreshadows Mark). In Daniel, as in Mark, when the secular King was allowed to place his own statue and likeness anywhere he wanted, when even the Temple became merely a public vehicle for his self-aggrandizement it meant our destruction was near. There was no more integrity to the place of worship and the Temple’s function. We were losing our reason for being, our mode of being faithful. We would soon be overrun.
Today we feel a similar tragic decline in religion in our country. We see the weakest Church any of us have known. We witness the horrible abuse of that church by mightier powers denigrating our traditions and making us a mockery in the eyes of the world. We don’t want to become mere pawns in the hands of more powerful people who would use the name Christian to merely strengthen their own political position. We are trying to maintain a healthy sense of justice and integrity. But longing to regain status and working to make the faith meaningful and effective we still sometimes feel at a loss! I’m proud of those of us across the country in a variety or denominations struggling today to be a faithful remnant.
Let the reader understand; these are really bad days for religion in our country. Our friends, family, and ex-attenders have written off the Church as irrelevant. Or worse, they now see our temples and Christian tradition as merely the unwitting tool of mightier, unjust, and profoundly unholy powers. They see the Desolating Sacrilege above us, standing where it doesn’t belong as Mark warned. In the holiest places beside our crosses is an alien banner hovering, ominous. It reads: Make America Great Again.
What we need in place of such idolatry is a fresh religion, begun with new prophetic and urgent hope. That’s a faith worth celebrating and worth telling others about.
We start anew, and again, this Sunday.