Mark 14:50-52, “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.”
It is Holy Thursday in this reading of Mark. Jesus has just celebrated the Last Supper in which he proclaims to his most beloved Apostles that his body and blood will be given up for each of them as well as each of us who follows him. Judas, the misinformed zealot Apostle has made his choice and gone to the authorities to hand Jesus over. Jesus goes to Gethsemane to pray for his Father’s will to be done. While there, he is handed over to the authorities with a kiss from Judas. There is a scuffle and a miracle and suddenly the Apostles flee, distancing themselves from their Master, the one who has come to set all of us free through His captivity. Now this is the part that gets interesting in Mark, where each of us can identify in some way. Just three short sentences with an unknown character. A young man follows the posse with Jesus in their midst wearing only his linen cloth, think underwear or loose robe. Most likely his disrobed body draws attention and the young soldiers grab his cloth trying to seize him. He flees as well in his nakedness and shame for all to see.
Who is this young man? Some say Lazarus, who is wearing his burial linen cloth. Others think Mark is making a brief appearance to show that he was actually present at the time. Still others claim everything from the owner of the garden to the man who appears again at the end of Mark announcing our Lord’s resurrection. Will we ever know the true identity of this man? Is it important that we know who he really was? Perhaps what is of more importance is to look at why the Holy Spirit felt it important to inspire Mark to include this unknown man in his account of the Passion of Jesus, note that only Mark includes this part of the Passion Story.
This young man causes us to think about frightening or difficult times, when we are asked to faithfully follow Jesus rather than running to those things which bring us comfort. We have all had these experiences, though different for each of us. The single mother who must find a way to put food on the table for her children and pay the rent with not enough money for both. The teacher who struggles to keep the brightest children in her class challenged while encouraging the children with learning disabilities to try and keep up. The son who must find time to deal with his angry elderly mom while meeting the responsibilities of being a husband and father to his family. The teen who yearns to be popular but realizes how unsafe it is to follow the crowd into sexual experimentation and substance abuse to gain that popularity. The missionary in the Middle East who lives with the threat of terrorism daily but knows that God is leading their life to bring His Word to this troubled part of the world.
We all struggle….. And yet, we are each faced with a choice. Do we leave Jesus and flee when the going gets tough? “Thanks, Lord, but no thanks. I’ve got it from here on my own. I can take care of this problem better than you. It’s getting scary and tough to be associated with the likes of you, Lord. Sorry, but heading out to keep myself safe on my own.” Perhaps, we head towards Jesus in the midst of our fear and trembling, almost naked, for all to see. “Lord, it is getting scary here. Time for a miracle. I am needing a little help here. You going to do something to make it better. No worries though Lord, I’ll take care of this little area over here on my own.” Yet, when they see we are looking to Him for our answer, we back away and run with our sin naked for the world to see, abandoning Jesus just like his Apostles and the young man in his skivvies did the night of Holy Thursday.
Me, I prefer to keep my eyes on Jesus, clothed or otherwise. “Lord, I am frightened here. I don’t want to grumble. I don’t want to die. I have things that I want to do and see and be for You and Your glory. Even when times get tough, overwhelming, alarming, I hold to Your promise that in the midst of all this mess, You ‘will never leave me nor abandon me’ (Hebrews 13:5). You, Lord are my refuge so that no one may say ‘flee like a bird’ (Psalm 11:1). I am strong and courageous as You have promised to always go with me (Deuteronomy 31:6). I need not turn and flee when frightening times come to me knowing that you are ever present (1 Chronicles 28:20).
So I take heart that when the others fled Jesus in his moment of great strength, which appeared to human eyes as weakness, there was this lone young man who ventured towards Him. In his nakedness, he followed Jesus for as long as He dared. And though he turned and fled when the world seized Him, I am sure that Jesus looked upon Him with great compassion as He does to each of us in those moments. Knowing each of our hearts, with open arms, He claims over us His steadfast love and tender mercies through the most terrifying of times. With this we know that unlike this lone young man, we have nothing to flee in fear from. And so we run into his outstretched arms for the strength and courage we need to endure those most difficult times to bring glory to Him, our Master and Savior.