This text follows directly on from the one in the lectionary yesterday. I’m not sure when Jesus was talking about Jerusalem being surrounded — he had prophesied the destruction of the the temple, which happened in 72 AD, when Titus circumvalleted the entire city, leaving it surrounded from armies.
But from this there is a principle, being used by our Middle East Brothers and sisters: when the opposition becomes genocidal, flee.
20“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; 22for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. 23Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; 24they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
25“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
In Egypt, In Syria, In Iraq… the Christians are dying. As the Islamists politicize and consider that they have the right to have a pan-Islamic society the last vestiges of the Ottoman tolerance are removed and the people decide to cleanse their neighborhoods. They cast out the Jews, and then the Christians: those churches in Antioch, Damascus, and Egypt that date back to the times of the Apostles are being destroyed. The blood of those killed is bearing witness, for as they do this their societies are moving into a Malthusian end game. I’m quoting my favourite pessimist here.
Syria and Egypt are dying. They were dying before the Syrian civil war broke out and before the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Cairo. Syria has an insoluble civil war and Egypt has an insoluble crisis because they are dying. They are dying because they chose not to do what China did: move the better part of a billion people from rural backwardness to a modern urban economy within a generation. Mexico would have died as well, without the option to send its rural poor – fully one-fifth of its population – to the United States.
It was obvious to anyone who troubled to examine the data that Egypt could not maintain a bottomless pit in its balance of payments, created by a 50% dependency on imported food, not to mention an energy bill fed by subsidies that consumed a quarter of the national budget. It was obvious to Israeli analysts that the Syrian regime’s belated attempt to modernize its agricultural sector would create a crisis as hundreds of thousands of displaced farmers gathered in slums on the outskirts of its cities. These facts were in evidence early in 2011 when Hosni Mubarakfell and the Syrian rebellion broke out. Paul Rivlin of Israel’s Moshe Dayan Center published a devastating profile of Syria’s economic failure in April 2011. 
Sometimes countries dig themselves into a hole from which they cannot extricate themselves. Third World dictators typically keep their rural population poor, isolated and illiterate, the better to maintain control. That was the policy of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party from the 1930s, which warehoused the rural poor in Stalin-modeled collective farms called ejidos occupying most of the national territory. That was also the intent of the Arab nationalist dictatorships in Egypt and Syria. The policy worked until it didn’t. In Mexico, it stopped working during the debt crisis of the early 1980s, and Mexico’s poor became America’s problem. In Egypt and Syria, it stopped working in 2011. There is nowhere for Egyptians and Syrians to go.
It is cheap to assuage Western consciences by sending some surplus arms to the Syrian Sunnis. No-one has proposed a way to find the more than US$20 billion a year that Egypt requires to stay afloat. In June 2011, then French president Nicholas Sarkozy talked about a Group of Eight support program of that order of magnitude. No Western (or Gulf State) government, though, is willing to pour that sort of money down an Egyptian sinkhole.
Egypt remains a pre-modern society, with nearly 50% illiteracy, a 30% rate of consanguineal marriage, a 90% rate of female genital mutilation, and an un- or underemployment rate over 40%. Syria has neither enough oil nor water to maintain the bazaar economy dominated by the Assad family. Both were disasters waiting to happen. Economics, to be sure, set the stage but did not give the cues: Syria’s radical Sunnis revolted in part out of enthusiasm for the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and partly in fear of Iran’s ambition to foster Shi’ite ascendancy in the region.
We, in the west, are not at this point. We have governments that try to control and have tendencies to fascism, but we do not yet have the mass arrests and death camps of true fascism. Nor do we have the murderous mobs shooting and stoning people kneeling in prayer. I pray it does not come. But when a society actively rejects the Christians among them, and casts them out, they lose that which preserves the culture. And they dissolve: into violence, starvation and war. So when we pray for our leaders, we need to pray that they do not listen to the ideologues in their party — for both the left and the right find us inconvenient. And we need to pray for and support our brothers and sisters who are dying in the ongoing Islamic Jiahd.