The Naked Man: pt. 6

Mark 14 52 - cropped“I remember your return,” Miryam said gently. “I woke in the night, and could not fall asleep again. I slipped out of bed so as not to disturb your father, wrapped a blanket around my nightclothes and wandered into the courtyard to breathe the crisp night air. It took me a moment to register the fact that no one was there – Jesus’ followers were gone. I climbed the stairs to the upper room, but a quick glance inside showed that Jesus and the Twelve had indeed left. As I descended the stairs I wondered if Jesus had decided to return to Bet Anya before sunrise – to leave Jerusalem as secretively as he had entered it just a few hours before. I settled in my favorite chair out there,” she gestured with her chin to the place Mark had found her when he had arrived, “to ponder Jesus’ actions. Why had he come into Jerusalem at all? Why not just celebrate Passover in Bet Anya with the family of Lazarus, or with Simon the leper, where he had dined the night before? Why come into Jerusalem when he knew the chief priests and scribes were seeking his life? I had been honored when he had asked us to host him and the Twelve, but concerned for him at the same time. At some point in my pondering I must have drifted off to sleep.”

“And that is how I found you,” said Mark. “Yes,” she replied. “You shook me awake, and when I saw the look on your face I remember crying with alarm. You were bereft. You were weeping. You were bleeding. And you were naked.” “I was naked,” said Mark. “I had run from the Mount of Olives across the Kidron, and back into the city. I was beside myself with fear and horror, and all I wanted to do was get home. I’m not sure I even realized I was naked. It was dark, and I only passed a handful of people – I barely saw their shocked faces as I ran and then stumbled, exhausted, through the streets. Oh mother,” his face crumpled again, “how can I forget that night? How can I ever forgive myself? We abandoned him. Every last one of us. We had promised to follow him – even unto death. But we ran.” Miryam reached across to lay her hand over her son’s. “’Even the bravest among the warriors will flee naked in that day,’ declares the Lord.” At his mother’s words, a look of confusion crossed Mark’s face. “The prophet Amos,” she said. “He saw a day of judgment so terrible that even the most valiant of young men would flee naked before it. And surely, the arrest of Jesus that night would have invoked the crushing judgment of the prophet. The judgment reserved for the leaders of God’s people, for shepherds who not only fail to protect their flock, but contribute to their misery. The judgment on those who failed – no, refused – to recognize who it was who walked among them in the hills of Galilee and on the streets of Jerusalem.”

Mark shook his head slowly. “Perhaps. But we did not recognize him either. At least, we did not understand what it meant for him to be the Christ. How many times did he try to explain, and we also refused to believe him. As I ran through the streets that night, of all that he taught us, these are the words that rang through my mind: ‘For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it…’” His mother squeezed his hand. “But those words continue: ‘…but whoever loses his life for my sake, and the gospel’s shall save it.’ Oh my son, you have poured out your life for the sake of the gospel. How much have you risked to journey from Rome to Jerusalem to be with us, at such a time as this? These are the days when we will all have to choose whether or not we will deny ourselves and take up the cross to continue to follow Jesus.”

They sat for a moment in silence. The sound of the children playing outside reminded Mark of the question that had prompted his memories. “But I still do not understand why David called me ‘the naked man.’ Why would Benyamin tell his grandchildren that story? I would have thought he would have preferred to forget it.” Miryam sipped from her wine cup before answering. “The children are here often. They love playing among the trees, as you can see. During the worst of the civil war, our home was far safer than their own, and so they stayed here for many weeks. Of course, they met the members of the ecclesia, and grew fond of some of them. I think Benyamin was torn between concern for their safety, and concern for his standing among his peers, as you can imagine. I am glad he chose their safety. They know their grandfather has two brothers, one of whom belongs to the same sect as their great-grandmother – a sect their grandfather publicly declaims. And just as you still carry the memory of that night with you, so does your brother.”

Mark nodded. “Yes, I remember. It was so hard for him in the following days. His closest friend’s father was on the Council, and had been in the garden when Jesus was arrested. He recognized me, and obviously reported what had happened to his son. When Benyamin went to their home the following night, his friend humiliated him in front of all their other friends, regaling them with the story. And worse – reported that our family was closely associated with the man that had been crucified that very afternoon. Benyamin fled in disgrace – and barely spoke to me from that day forward.”

“And so,” his mother said, “you have become ‘the naked man’ for his children and grandchildren, the symbol of shame that he feels because his brother follows a man crucified by the Romans at the behest of some of our family’s oldest friends. And because his mother not only belongs to the Jesus sect, but hosts the gathering in her home. That is why you are ‘the naked man.’” Miryam laughed. “Although I don’t think young David understands all that. He just thinks the story is funny.” She sighed. “But it’s not funny, is it? For either of you.” She released his hand, and sat back with a groan. “The children will be hungry. Help me up and we will attend to their needs. And after supper, you can tell me about this letter you have received…”

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