He ran off naked

May 7, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from Mark 14:43-52.

Then, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a crowd with swords and clubs who had come from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. His betrayer had arranged a signal with them, saying, “The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him and lead him away securely.” He came and immediately went over to him and said, “Rabbi.” And he kissed him. At this they laid hands on him and arrested him. One of the bystanders drew his sword, struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his ear. Jesus said to them in reply, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to seize me? Day after day I was with you teaching in the temple area, yet you did not arrest me; but that the scriptures may be fulfilled.” And they all left him and fled. Now a young man followed him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.

In the darkness Judas, the betrayer, comes triggering all this turmoil, shouting, shoving, and violence. One of the disciples, later identified as Peter by John, strikes out with his sword in an effort to defend Jesus. Jesus alone remains calm amidst the storm swirling about him, having already accepted his Father’s will and knowing that soon he would be reunited with him. Submission to God’s will, certainty of His love and care, anticipation of reunion. Those are the hallmarks of a peaceful spirit, of God’s indwelling spirit.

Evil disturbs our peace, our equanimity, our steady resolve to follow Jesus. Judas may have been the means by which evil was perpetrated, but the disciples succumbed to the fear that evil used as its instrument to subvert God’s will. Perhaps that’s why the admonition to “be not afraid” is used so often in the scriptures. It was fear that drove the disciples to flee, every one of them.

Every one but this mysterious young man wrapped only in a linen cloth. He doesn’t appear in any of the other three gospels. Some have speculated that it was John Mark, the author of the gospel. Others believe that he represents the disciples as a whole. They had given up everything to follow Jesus but failed to grasp all that it required. Moloney in the Gospel of Mark notes that nakedness in that world symbolized the “loss of all one has and is.” In fleeing they had lost their commitment, their faithfulness, their integrity. They had lost everything that had meaning in order to save their lives; they had been stripped of all that mattered. What a shattering realization that must have been when they reached a place of safety and reflected on what they had done or failed to do! In denying Jesus three times Peter wept bitterly.

It is often fear that separates me from Jesus. Fear of rejection or discovery that leads me to lie. Fear being old or catching a serious illness that causes me to turn my back on the aged or sick. Fear of not having enough that leads me to hold on to what I have instead of giving it away. Fear of being vulnerable or defenseless that causes me to withdraw. I’m drawn into the turmoil that fear engenders instead of holding fast to Jesus, following him instead of fleeing him. Like the naked young man, I am stripped of everything I have and all that I am that matters when I fail to remain faithful to him and to his teachings.



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