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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A Stripling in a Loose Garment, Stripping in a Garden

Don't ask me how this comes up, conveniently next door to the (transferred) feast of St Mark. And I'm not sure I'd Google the expression above, if I were you.  The first half of it was tweeted into my timeline and the image stuck.

I'm thinking, of course, of Mark 14:

 "50  And they all forsook him, and fled.

 51  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:

 52  And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked."

The later Gospel writers remove this reference, possibly thinking that it detracts from the solemnity of the moment to have young nude men running around the Garden like some Monty Python sketch.

Apparently Jeremy Bentham thought the young man was a prostitute Jesus had taken into the garden with him. Which seems unlikely to me. Firstly because if the rozzers had caught Jesus in flagrante, the Sanhedrin wouldn't have wasted their time arguing over theological issues with Pilate. They'd have just picked up some handy-sized stones. And secondly because if the Gospel writer had gone to all the trouble of ignoring that entire event of passion, he'd have knocked out the young man altogether. From the passage, that is. Not literally.

The most likely explanation for the young nude chap is that he's someone who, knowing that Jesus the exciting young rabbi and his disciples have gone out into the garden, grabs the nearest linen cloth to hand - maybe his bed sheet? Did they have such? - runs out to follow them, hides to see what's going on and, when it all kicks off and the place is crawling with temple guards and legionaries, legs it. A copper grabs his shoulder, is left with a handful of cloth, and our man legs it, nude, into the Jerusalem night.

The next step many take is to assume that the most likely explanation for the source of this youth is that he's a teenager who should have been in bed. Who was, in fact, in bed on this holy night, in his mum's house. Which house was actually the building that contained an upper room where Jesus and his disciples were eating their Last Supper. That, in short, the young nude man was Mark himself.

It has a lovely logic about it. This brief glimpse, if you will, of the author.  Painting himself into the picture, like a Hitchcock cameo. Adds that touch of historical veracity.

It's also a little cameo of Mark's future career. This wasn't the only time Mark tried to follow Jesus and then ran away. He did it later on, on a missionary journey with Paul. So much so that Paul refused to work with him again - Like Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane. Only without the bad language and money.

Mark's habit of running away was so - ahem - marked that the Church of England, with typical tastelessness, uses the Acts reading explaining all this on St Mark's Day.

But remember this. At the end of his journey, Paul writes that "Only Luke is with me," and asks to get Mark to come to be with him. Towards the end of Peter's life, tradition has it, Mark was with him, and wrote down what Peter told him into what became the first Gospel. How odd if, unknown to even Jesus himself, Mark was closest to him also as he prepared for the end of his own life

Mark - the one who was always running away. The one who first wrote Jesus's life story. Allegedly, the nude bloke in a garden. It's funny who God uses.

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