Loving God, thank you for leading me into the light. Thank you for sending the Savior, Jesus, to call me from sin and death to life, to experience abundant freedom in Christ. But Lord, I confess that I am often bound by old habits that I cannot throw off, old customs that are so much a part of my life that I am helpless to live the new life that Christ calls me to live. Give me strength, O Father, to break the bonds. Give me courage to live a new life in you. Give me faith to believe that with your help, I cannot fail.*
Only two verses today—Mark 14:51-52. Read them several times, and as you do, try to picture the scene in its context, even skimming what has taken place in the previous eight verses.
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.
I read these verses several times this morning. As usual, I was reading with two goals in mind: first, to understand the text itself in its context, both within the specific book I’m reading (Mark), but also within the context of the whole Bible. As I have studied scripture over the last thirteen years especially, I have become increasingly eager to hold not just a particular passage on its own, but to hold it in tension with the rest of scripture. This is such an important part of Bible study, because otherwise we can take things literally out of context and develop a theology that is inconsistent with the whole of scripture. So reading a passage, even just two verses, and holding it in context with the rest of the Bible is one of my goals every time I read scripture.
The second goal I always have when reading the Bible is to understand its relevance to me today. I assume it is relevant, always. I expect that if I sit with a passage long enough, it will teach me something that will help me to know God a bit better and to be more prepared to live a life that is holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12:1).
But that’s not always easy. Some passages, like the one today, do not offer a personal application at first blush. So I sit with it, even just two verses, and I reflect. I resist the urge to conjure up some meaning that isn’t there or to project some spiritual implication that simply doesn’t exist in the text. But I wait. I listen. I picture the scene as best I can, asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate my imagination.
That’s what happened this morning. “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.”
What does this tell me about the context of the night of Jesus’s betrayal and arrest? It tells me that it was a very violent and chaotic night. It was dark, with only the moon and stars and perhaps some torches or lanterns for light. A group of disciples had followed Jesus to Gethsemane, and he told them, “Sit here while I pray.” Then, he went off somewhere else, probably somewhere nearby, but not right there with them, because Mark 14:33 says that he “took with him Peter and James and John.” So these four broke off from the larger group of disciples, and then Jesus told these three also, “Remain here and watch.” Then Jesus left the three and went “a little farther” to pray. (vv 34-35).
After Jesus prayed for a while, he came back to the three and found them sleeping—twice. And just as he rejoined the three for the second time, Judas came, accompanied by “a crowd with swords and clubs.”
So from this, I imagine that there was a group of disciples in one area of the garden, Jesus with Peter, James and John in another area of the garden, and a crowd of hostile men with weapons.
It was dark. I imagine that the group of disciples who had been told to, “Sit here while I pray,” suddenly heard the commotion of the crowd, and went to see what was going on. Perhaps this “young man” was among that group of disciples. Perhaps once they came upon the scene and saw Jesus and the three surrounded, perhaps once they saw that it was a mob attack, they feared for their lives. Perhaps many of them fled immediately.
But not this young man. He stayed. He watched. And when they began to carry Jesus off, perhaps he followed. He tried to keep his distance, hiding behind trees and brush as he followed, but someone in the crowd heard him and turned, running after him. He was fast, but they were faster, and suddenly he felt them all around him. He made a break for it, but they had already gotten hold of his linen cloth. It was dark, it was chaotic. They had a hold of his garment, just a light cloth wrapped around his body, but he was just squirrely enough to slip out of it and flee. Naked.
As I imagine this scene, I have a better picture of the whole night of Jesus’s arrest, and what was to follow. Just two short verses can say so much about the circumstances of that night. It was violent. It was chaotic. The fear was palpable. Jesus was considered a criminal, and everyone with him guilty by association. So they fled, terrified.
What does this mean for me? How does this passage help me live a more devoted life?
There are probably several answers for that question. I have considered a few this morning. But the thing that I keep coming back to is empathy for Christ and gratitude for what he endured on my behalf. I picture Christ. I picture the disciples. I picture the crowd. The clubs. The swords. The chaos. The violence. I reflect on what it all means.
This scene is the beginning of Christ’s suffering. It was brutal. It was horrifying. It was unjust in every earthly sense. But it was, ultimately, an act of eternal grace. “He was wounded for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes, we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, every one, to his own way. And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:5-7)
This little passage from Mark about a young man who fled naked informs my reading of the whole passion story. And as I imagine Jesus in that scene, being carried off like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, I am broken and grateful. And that gratitude spurs me on to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:10)
*(This prayer is adapted from my church’s bulletin 4/28/13.)