Depending on which version of the Bible you use, you read that the rich young man departed from Jesus “sad,” or “disappointed,” or “grieved.” One version states that he departed “grieved and in much distress.” The point is this: he went away unrepentant. He was not willing to turn away from the one thing that he loved more than Christ… his wealth.
I wonder what kind of disciple I would have made. No, I do not dare compare myself to Peter, James, or John; I contrast myself with them. If there is anyone with whom I would compare myself, it is the man who fled naked from the scene of Jesus’ arrest. For those who are not familiar with this story, it is found only in the Gospel of Mark, and many bible scholars, in fact, believe that the young man describe is John Mark. The young man is present when Judas betrays Christ. This is before Jesus is put on trial, and before Peter denies him.
The scene is Gethsemane, which is a name made up of the Hebrew words for oil and press. Mark speaks of this place as an estate, while John refers to it as a garden or an orchard. Historically, it was a small family-operated endeavor, sitting at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Near to the garden sat the family home, yet the garden was private, walled off from the public. Nearby is an olive press. It may be that it is in this house that Christ and his disciples had just celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Passover. More likely, the house where they celebrated was not far away.
It is a bright night, a full moon. The trees are in bloom. The still night air is cold, brisk. Jesus had prayed. His disciples had slept, which Jesus expected. For three years He had lived and worked side-by-side with the Twelve. Not just the twelve. An good number of women had also followed Him. A large number of other disciples also followed Christ. Unnamed, dedicated, and believing, these men and women would not go on to write gospels or letters that would ultimately be included in our Bible. They may or may not have died the death of a martyr, but their names would forever remain lost to history. Christ awakens his disciples, warning them that His appointed time has arrived.
It is likely that this young man – this young disciple of Christ – was awakened by the ruckus caused by the soldiers who arrested Christ. After all, what Roman soldier could remain calm and quiet when arresting the leader of a band of revolutionaries? This is the way that the high priest had painted Jesus, yet these soldiers knew better. They had been witness to the ministry of Jesus. He reminds them of this. Still, the soldiers were on edge.
When Peter drew his sword, the entire contingent of soldiers must have reacted. Watching from afar, the young man ran panics; how dare they arrest Him, especially at Gethsemane, the place to where Jesus would seek refuge when he needed to pray. Afforded privacy by the wall, yet only a short walk from the Temple, Jesus somehow felt closer to His Father when in the garden. How could they now arrest Jesus in this place that He found so comforting?
He hadn’t taken time to dress. He had heard the ruckus, and looked out his window. Going to the door of his house, the young man had seen torchlight reflecting off the armor of a cohort soldiers. He had known where they were headed. It was obvious. He would run ahead of them and warn Christ, or so he had hoped. Dressed only in a linen wrap, he he had run quickly and quietly to the far side of the Garden. He had hoped no one would see him in his bed clothes, but he had not dared to take time to dress.
“Hide, Jesus; they are coming for you!” This is what he had hoped to tell Him. “Who?” Surely Jesus would know who. “The temple guard. The Roman soldiers that Pilate had loaned out to the Chief priest. Hundreds of them, from the Tower of Antonia. Can’t you hear them marching? Don’t you see the glow of their lights? Run, Jesus. Run. All of you. They intend to take all of you. It doesn’t take hundreds of mercenaries to capture one man; they intend to arrest all of your followers.”
He had not succeeded. The young man had arrived just in time to see the kiss. The soldiers seize Christ. He sees every disciple flee. He is dumbstruck and paralyzed. When the soldiers take Christ from the garden,he follows at a distance. He does not, however, remain unnoticed.
No sooner does the cohort begin their march to the home of the high priest when one of them notice the young man. They lunge for him. He is, however, young, nimble and quick. He squirms his way out of his linen wrap and disappears into the night. I imagine that once the soldiers stopped laughing they find him not worthy of a manhunt.
The soldiers could have turned 13 men over to the high priest, but they arrived that night with but one. Jesus. This proclaimed Messiah is the only one that mattered to Caiaphas and Annas. They could have arrested 11 of Christ’s closest followers. They could have pursued and arrested the naked young man.
There are many people in the account of the last days of Christ to which one may relate. A betrayer, a denier, one who watches from afar, those who flee, but the person to whom I seem to have the most in common is the naked young man. I want so badly to follow Christ. I think I will be brave and able. Yet, I arrive unprepared, undressed so to speak. I stay in the shadows, naked and ashamed, like Adam after the fall. I watch the life of Christ from afar, close enough only to be able to speak of it if asked, but not close enough to be integral to the story. When things get hot, I run. When caught, I squirm away, losing the last vestige of modesty. What’s worse. I repeat this flight over and over and over. We all like sheep have gone astray.
I could have been turned over to the powers of Satan for punishment, after all. I was – I am – guilty. I have repeatedly hidden, naked and ashamed. Jesus, though, took my punishment. Do you get it? Do you fully understand? Though we fell asleep when we should have been praying, and though we presented ourselves naked and ashamed, even though we have denied Him, or took up a sword, He delivered us from “the hands of sinners.” He died in our place. He took our punishment so that we would go free.
Why then do I keep on sinning? I know all this? Why can’t I change? Why are most people stuck in a vicious cycle of sin and sorrow? It’s because, like the Rich Young Ruler, we love something (our sins and vices) more than we love Christ.
The consequences of our refusal to change is discussed in the next chapter.