There are two odd verses in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 14, situated between the exodus of the disciples from the Garden of Gethsemane and the arrest of Jesus:
“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.”
As I was reading last night, these verses took me completely by surprise. I couldn’t understand the importance of including such a vague statement at one of the most climactic moments of the Gospel. The verse immediately preceding these lines is the infamous Mark 14:50:
“And they all forsook him, and fled.”
So if they ALL forsook him, why single out this one man? I checked my three trusty bible commentaries for an answer and only one gave any sort of explanation, which is that this is assumed to be Saint Mark’s confession of deserting Jesus. But even if it was a confession by Saint Mark, I still wasn’t satisfied with why he chose to be so explicit about running away NAKED and why he placed it at this particular moment in the Gospel.
As I meditated on these verses, I remembered another man in the scriptures who is famous for running away naked: Joseph. Genesis 39: 11-12 says:
“One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.”
The last part of this verse significantly corresponds with the Mark 14:51.
Let’s start with the obvious, being naked in public would be embarrassing, humiliating, and mortifying. There are very few circumstances in which people would CHOOSE to leave behind all of their clothing, barring the use of alcohol or other substances. And yet as unusual as such a situation may be, we are presented here with two.
Joseph the righteous, as he is often called, was so devoted to serving God that he allowed himself to be shamed in order to flee temptation and sin.
1 Corinthians 6:18: “FLEE from sexual immorality.”
2 Timothy 2:22: “So FLEE youthful passions and pursue righteousness.”
Joseph is an example of someone who took Saint Paul’s advice literally. Not only did he run away from sin, but he ran away from it naked. He bore the shame (not to mention time in prison) because, in comparison to honouring God, it was no big deal.
Joseph lived like Jesus. Christ himself was not only crucified in nakedness (Mt. 27:35), but He also bore the entire weight of the sins of humankind to give us a life of liberty. He willingly accepted to be put to shame on a physical, emotional, social, and spiritual level for the glory of God His Father and His love for mankind.
But the mysterious young man who fled Gethsemane ran away from God, not towards Him. He did not accept the shame that often comes with being a disciple of Christ. He chose the world. He did not mind humiliation, if it saved his life in that moment. We know, however, that whoever desires to save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it (Mt. 16:25).
He was so eager to get away from Jesus, and being associated with Him, that he ran away naked. He was not rooted and grounded in the love of God like Joseph or Jesus. Instead, he was filled with fear.
We also often let fear get the best of us and abandon God. We run towards anything that will immediately relieve us of stress or anxiety. We create a false sense of security for ourselves believing that our lives are in our own control. We are likewise ashamed to standby Christ. We are ashamed to proclaim Him to the world like the Samaritan woman or the blind man, to worship Him as passionately and wholeheartedly as the woman who wept at His feet, to lean on His breast like Saint John the beloved, and to flee temptation like Joseph.
How do you think our Lord felt seeing that everyone would forsake Him, naked if they had to, because they feared a life by His side? And how does He feel when we act the same way now? Matthew 10:33 gives us a pretty good indication:
“But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father who is in Heaven.”
We live for more than this temporal world. We must come to the realization that there are only two paths in which to run and make a choice.
Run towards towards God, towards eternity.