April 26, 2010

The Naked Young Man At Gethsemane

"...And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked. ~Mark 14:51-52

Although I always found this passage quirky and the mental imagery initially caused a reflexive amusement, it deals with the seriousness of salvation that transcends time and the things that led up to the Crucifixion. This incident would've actually been rather humorous in just about any other context but because it portended the most horrific miscarriage of justice in history the imagery this conjures up must be tempered with thoughts of solemnity. So...why is this item, that appears to be almost an aside, placed directly in the middle of Jesus' arrest?

I pondered this for a couple of days before typing. It is almost quixotic in its usage and placement in this passage. As if it was put in this passage just to add a note of impulsiveness. But as we know from reading the rest of the Bible, nothing is an accident in God's world nor is it impulsive. Everything has its reason and is part of God's plan. I will do my best to deliver my point of view on this derived from the evidence(s). You are free to disagree.

We are never told who this young man is. Probably because the personal identity is irrelevant. It is his associated identity that is important. He was associated to Jesus Christ at the time of his arrest. He was the same as all the others that had followed Jesus in that they either betrayed, denied or deserted by Him. Judas, Peter, and a meagerly clad and eventually naked man in the garden. The "unidentified naked man" or "UNM" as I will officially dub him from this point forward is interesting in that, well, he had no clothes and was nearly caught. If it wasn't for fancy footwork and a little physical dexterity with his minimal apparel, he would've been nabbed by the authorities.

What was it that made this unnamed man "hotfoot" it into the darkness of the night? What caused him to flee into the dark shadows of the garden at Gethsemane? Fear. The Way, The Truth and The Life had been apprehended and was being arrested by the world and it made no sense to any of them. It defied all their understandings of who and what they thought Jesus was and what He was here to do on Earth. So much so that Peter denied Jesus because he was scared and caught completely off-guard. It is clear from "UNM's" wardrobe that he was not expecting to be accosted or assailed either and reponded accordingly by sprinting into the darkness unclothed.

Sadly, this mindset was in all the followers of Jesus at this point even after the fact that Jesus had just told them and explained to them what was going to happened. Peter's denial was told to Peter, Jesus predicted Judas' betrayal in front of Judas, and Jesus foretold his own persecution and death. They didn't or couldn't accept what The Truth said was the truth. They either doubted or were incapable of comprehending it. Even after the Crucifixion and Resurrection had taken place. Even after all the prophecies had been fulfilled, the prophecies they had learned as believer's of the Old Testament. They still didn't understand it. And it caught them totally flat-footed and it blindsided them.

Do you really suppose "UNM" wanted to be immortalized in the Bible as the "naked guy" sprinting through Gethsemane? To be perpetuated though history as "that guy" who was caught so unprepared that he fled without his attire? Somehow I don't think that's the case. I don't believe this is the way he would've liked to have been remembered. Like other examples of Jesus' contemporaries and followers we see an image in our minds of humanness to the point of being commonplace. The only thing unique and fantastic about them is their association with God incarnate, Jesus Christ. We see "UNM" with all his foibles and faults or as I've heard others say about the Apostles, warts and all.

This event reads like an eyewitness account in the Gospel of Mark. I would guess John Mark knew of this firsthand or had it reiterated to him by a first party to the incident. Why report an incident like this in a two verse blurb otherwise. A two verse inclusion right in the middle of the story of Jesus' arrest? Additionally, the inclusion tells us that "UNM" escaped by the "skin of his teeth".

What else stands out in this context? Jesus does. Specifically His foretelling of these events beforehand. The other startling attribute of our Savior is His unflappability. He exudes an unshakable composure as the world disintegrates around Him. He doesn't run. As a matter of fact, by his demeanor He controls the anxiety and disruption leading to His apprehension (Peter, Malchus healed). By His outward behavior He controls the "tone" of His own arrest. He is the measure of resoluteness and the image of calm during the entire unfolding of events. This is in stark contrast to the scatterbrain behavior and disarray all around Him. His presence even holds sway over His captors.

"Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, "Whom do you seek?" They answered him, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus said to them, "I am he." Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, "Whom do you seek?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go." This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: "Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one." ~John 18:4-9

Alone Jesus is left to face His enemies just like he would bear the weight of the world's sin...alone.

What do we learn from this?

We need to trust in the Lord and what He says is true. What the Lord lays on our hearts is to be taken deeply to heart, reviewed and understood to the best of our ability. If we ignore the Lord or His commandments or statutes we do so at our own peril. We are then left to our own devices to try and extract ourselves from what is often a dilemma of our own making. Some of these "devices" to extract ourselves are dubious to say the least. We can all attest to this fact by using some of our own failed attempts to do the right thing and failing miserably. Best intentions, atrocious results. When man relies on his own devices we will never get the optimal results we would've gotten had we obeyed God. Inevitably, the means of escape and the path we need to take may get quite embarrassing as was the case of the "UNM". In the case of Peter, it dealt a nearly catastrophic blow to his psyche and in the case of Judas, it was deadly.

Turning our backs on Jesus will lead to chaos and disarray. The light he gives us for our lives illuminates our path and keeps us on a steady keel. When we walk away from this light (His truth) we head towards darkness, tripping and groping. In the case of our ungarmented example he most likely did all of this bereft of clothing. Forced to stumble around in the darkness with no protection from the elements.

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