04 April 2009

A Certain Young Man

"A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught him, but he left the linen cloth, and ran off naked." - Mark 14:51-52 (NRSV)

"And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked." - Mark 14:51-52 (King James)

What an odd text.

There are some very complicated theories on this very short text based on original texts rather than the translations we see here. As for who this young man is, some say the young man is Mark himself, others say he just a boy sleeping in the garden and woke to the ruckus, others say he's an angel, and others say the boy dressed in a white robe in Jesus' tomb is the same person as runs off naked in the garden. Mark 16:5. And there are other theories as well. In other words, nobody knows. As for the meaning, there are multiplicity of works in speculative fiction on that as well.

Let's play this back again. This certain young man (late teens or early twenties) went running off just after Jesus is arrested by the chief priests. Just after one of those who stood near drew his sword and cut off the ear of the slave of the high priest. Just after: "All of them deserted him and fled." - Mark 14:50 In other words, he's standing there, in the cold of the night, in a "linen" and he sees a betrayal, an arrest, a sword draw blood, and the Disciples high-tail it out of there. He thinks: "Sh*t!" In the chaos of the disciples fleeing, he tries to flee and some people grab him but he breaks free and runs...

Well, who wouldn't?

Doesn't everyone run screaming (at least metaphorically) when they figure out what following Christ really means? I think this young man is standing in for all of us in Mark's gospel (interestingly I don't think he appears in the other gospels). He witnesses the betrayal and arrest of Christ and then flees the scene of the crime. He's a material witness and he goes on the lam. Because, by god, he doesn't want to get involved.

Just like me when I first heard the gospels so long ago, and even last year when I came tentatively back to the gospels. Like a witness to a crime who peers through the blinds at the night scene below, at the circle of shadowed people standing around a body laying on the avenue in the pink glow of the city, but out of fear, doesn't dial 9-1-1.

This certain young man was an uncertain witness to something he did not fully comprehend. Something that scared him and sent him running.

I can relate to that.


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