The Gospel of Mark is by far the shortest of the four gospels. In my Bible it covers a mere 16 pages. Mark's style is uniquely matter-of-fact and succinct; he is not a writer prone to wavering into side stories or providing extra details for the sake of interest. His gospel starts with action, and continues rapidly on through to its conclusion.
And yet, with all of the stories of Christ which Mark needs to convey (and indeed, there are many he doesn't convey in this short work), he still takes two of his precious verses to tell this intriguing vignette about a young man who escaped the arrest scene only by losing his clothing in the process. Surely, this is a detail worth considering, if Mark deigned it worth recording.
Through the experience of this young man, we find an insight into understanding the situation Jesus was cast into that night. We were not there as eyewitnesses, but we can imagine the scene and the experience through this young man's eyes. The naked young man, surely, experienced three things with which Jesus also contended that night: fear, shame, and loss.
Put yourself into his situation. Though not an apostle this young man was a follower of Jesus, a dangerous role at any point, but never as much as now. We are told that, “A crowd armed with swords and clubs” had come to arrest Jesus (v. 43). Nothing good was going to come of this. It was clear to all involved that this was a life or death situation. The execution of Jesus was probably a foregone conclusion, and anyone caught with him may very well suffer the same fate.
|"The Betrayal of Christ," by Antonio Correggio, c. 1522|
Imagine running off into the night without a bit of clothing on you, and as a fugitive, no less. Surely his first reaction was fear. Where is he going to go? What is he going to do? You can hide a lot of things in this world; but you can’t hide being stark naked. How will he get back to the other disciples? Where would they even have gone? Imagine the baffling situation of being on the run and also being naked. It had to be a terrifying experience.
Yet, as he is dealing with this, Jesus is dealing with fear as well. He knows what is coming – the beatings, the nails, the crucifixion. Divine plan or not, Jesus still must feel it all, as a mortal man. He will die, and die a gruesome death. What intense fear he must have felt?
Secondly, the young man surely dealt with shame. Ever since the Garden of Eden, nakedness has represented shame. His primary shame would have come from his nakedness; but shame also came from abandoning Jesus in his worst hour. None of us would have done any better.
Similarly, Jesus endured shame as he was beaten and mocked. He is divine, and yet he was subjected to complete humiliation.
As the young man grappled with fear and shame, he also faced loss. He had lost his teacher, his leader, and in fact his overall purpose in life. He ran away naked, not only physically, but spiritually. Jesus Christ, however, was losing so much more. He had lost his physical freedom, he had lost his followers, and of course it was rather clear he would soon lose his life.
We can learn from the naked young man because he acts as a bridge between us, living in comfort and safety, and the Messiah entering into that dark and fated day. The King James Version quotes the prophet Amos as saying, “And he that is courageous among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day, saith the Lord.” (2:16) Like all the disciples, and also like us, the naked young man was painfully human. And yet so was Jesus Christ; painfully human, even if, indeed, divine. Nevertheless, he subjected himself to the fear, the shame, and the loss, if for no other reason than that we might avoid all three, in a better life that is to come.