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“Run Away Naked Mark” – The First Streaker

One of the great tragedies in cinematic history was the show LOST. It was not a tragedy in the sense that there was something wrong with the acting, screenplay, camera work, visuals, character development, or the like. All of those elements were among the best I have ever seen. It would have been hard to improve any of them. But what kept people like me coming back for more each week was the intrigue. We were all captivated by the story. “What could all of this mean?” That was the question with which I was left each week. I could not wait to see how they were going to pull it all together. For the last five or six episodes, the previews of the final week kept us coming back with this promise: “All your questions will soon be answered.” Of course, I believed them. One does not create a fictional story where the individual parts do not fit into a bigger picture, do they?

In season 1 episode 2 of LOST, the writers introduced this polar bear. On the mysterious tropical island where the plane crashed, the survivors run into a polar bear. Why? Well, we did not know, but we could not wait to find out. This, along with a thousand other odd things, created the intrigue. However, many of us found our hopes turned into tragedy as we finished the final minutes of the last episode, and virtually nothing was explained. Nothing! From September 22, 2004 to May 23, 2010, we anticipated the moment when all the blanks would be filled in. We wanted it all tied together. It was like we were given a thousand pieces to a jigsaw puzzle without a picture from which to work. We had the individual pieces of the puzzle distributed to us, one by one, for six years, and we expected that the creators knew how to put it together. As the final episode came to a close, we had to accept the tragic reality that the writers themselves did not really know what the big picture looked like. On May 23, a day that will live in infamy in the history of television, fans of LOST had dozens of leftover puzzle pieces in their laps. One of these pieces had a picture of a polar bear on it.

Live and learn.

Seconds after the final episode, Twitter and Facebook exploded with outrage. Fans were crying for explanations. Immediately, blogs and YouTube videos were produced listing the dozens of unanswered questions. Some of those who were holding out hope, in a last-ditch effort to keep LOST as one of the great shows of all time (which it could have been), cried, “Genius! They meant to leave everything unanswered. Now, we can fill in the blanks.” Are you kidding? No. I won’t have any of that. I don’t want to fill in the blanks, not in fiction anyway. You see, when we are dealing with fiction, we don’t like incidentals. We don’t like puzzle pieces that don’t fit into the big picture. And this is the difference between history and fiction. In fiction, there are no incidentals. Everything is told with a purpose to fit into the fabrication of the story. However, in real life, incidentals are plenty. They endear us to the truthfulness of the story. They are a sign to us that what we are hearing is probably not made up. In short, a characteristic of stories that represent true history is that they will often have incidentals and we don’t mind.

This is one of the many things that make me confident in the Gospels:  there are some incidentals. There are some unexplainable polar bears. There are some leftover puzzle pieces. Let me share just one…

On Thursday evening, the disciples and Christ had adjourned to the garden called Gethsemane. Unknown to the disciples, they had just shared their last wine with Christ. Jesus brought a couple of his disciples and asked them to pray with him. Their eyes were heavy and they fell asleep. They were awakened after a time by Christ, who drew their attention to the soldiers coming to arrest him. After a deceptive kiss, a short panic, and some terrible swordplay by Peter, the disciples all fled. So far so good? However, in Mark we get this unique and bizarre detail:

Mark 14:50-52
And they all left Him and fled. A young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. But he pulled free of the linen sheet and escaped naked.

It is interesting that we don’t know who this naked guy was. Tradition tells us it was Mark himself, as this is only recorded in Mark. It may very well have been. Some think the Last Supper was held upstairs at Mark’s house. Mark may have been turning in, dressed for bed, and heard about the trouble getting ready to happen. Like so many of us, who have great ambition at the beginning, but find it hard to follow through with our task, Mark didn’t even take the time to change his clothes. He had to go help Christ. However, when he arrived, his will was broken and replaced with fear. He ran just like the other Apostles.

Of course, that is all speculation. It sounds cool and reasonable. I might even be able to pull a sermon together based on this speculation. But, the reality is that we don’t know for sure who this guy was, as the Gospel of Mark does not tell us.

As an aside, here is one of the great comics of Josh Harris:

Ironically, the nice thing is that this is a spare puzzle piece. We don’t really know why it was included. It does not fit into the big picture. While many people have attempted (wrongly, in my opinion) to find some grander purpose for this narrative, it is probably just an incidental detail about what happened that night. It is unnecessary. Yes, it is inspired. Yes, it is God’s word. Yes, it is inerrant. But this piece is an incidental. It would seem that Matthew and Luke agree that it was an unnecessary detail, as they did not follow Mark in including the story. If they knew Mark was the naked man, they probably sought to help him save some face by leaving this out.

This is not trying to teach us some bigger principle like, “Keep your clothes on for Christ!” or. “Nakedness is not next to godliness.” It can’t even be used as an illustration of something. It is simply there because it is historical. This story certainly lends understanding to the radical abandonment that left Jesus alone, but it’s it so unique, it gives great credibility to its historicity. It is also somewhat characteristic of Mark to leave some things unsolved without worrying about bringing everything to a conclusion. After all, he leaves the reader hanging at the end of his Gospel too, as he abruptly ends the story with the angel’s appearance to the women after Jesus’ resurrection (Mark 16:8).

The point is that this type of stuff just does not fly in fiction or embellishments. When we are making up stories, we normally don’t think to add incidentals, as only real life provides these unconnected trivialities. While we don’t like this kind of thing when it comes to fictional stories, this is exactly what we would expect when the story is true. We can expect some number of leftover puzzle pieces in historical narrative, especially when we are talking about eyewitness accounts. Of course, this alone does not prove the historicity of the Gospels, but it does provide another line of evidence that points to said historicity.

Let us be thankful for “Run Away Naked Mark” this Easter.

14 Responses to ““Run Away Naked Mark” – The First Streaker”

  1. Incidentally, I heard that the producer of lost will now be producing something with Rob Bell as the star :-/

  2. Just for the fun of it, I wonder about three things:
    1) He had a linen (most likely a domestic cloth item, like a bed throw or even a curtain)
    2) After he was grabbed, he fled
    3) He stopped his grinnin and left his linen behind
    So, what can we conclude?
    1) As many speculate, he was either sleeping in the garden as a transient, perhaps, or he rose in haste from his home and grabbed something to cover himself. But considering how easy it is to put on a tunic, this is troublesome.
    2) Why would a stranger run? Either he was Mark or another disciple, and feared arrest, or he was a stranger and was panicked by the soldiers, etc. Either way it’s not much of a clue.
    3) It is unlikely that he intended to spend the rest of his evening naked, so we might assume that he went home, or at least had another linen somewhere.
    Ironically, the best clue is perhaps the phrase, “A certain young man . . .”. If he were a mere stranger, you would think the phrase would be, “A young man, not associated with . . .”. Maybe?

  3. Yes, he could have thrown on a tunic, but maybe his mom had put it in the wash for him. :-D

    As for the polar bear, I think it is obvious it came from the zoo. Now, if I remember correctly, the zoo was on the other island but polar bears are good swimmers.

    I only wish the polar bear were the biggest unanswered mystery of the show.

  4. Um, sure, maybe . . .
    And maybe he ran away because he was wearing the curtains and was reticent to explain that to a judge.

    What if this is the certain wealthy young man whom Jesus asked to sell everything and follow him? Did he take it literally?

  5. Given the way Mark uses framing techniques throughout his gospel with subtle ironies perhaps one might want to consider that Mark is using that device with νεανίσκος and περιβάλλω; each only used in 14.51 & 16.5 in Mark. In isolation that might seem a stretch, but those techneiques are used to often too be ignored in Mark.
    Understood this way is a far cry from the the insane ‘preacher-points’ you reference above.

  6. No surprise, but Matthew Henry gets almost a whole sermon’s worth on this. Copy the text into Bible Gateway and click on “show resources” and then select the Matthew Henry link. MH proposes that the young man was part of a select Jewish sect. Personally, I’ve always believed this is Mark writing himself into the story.

  7. Modern theologians want to believe that Mark’s Gospel was an account of Jesus’ life as recounted by Simon Peter … which leads me to believe that perhaps the young man in question was Peter’s son …
    Speaking of the Holy Bible and Jesus … “The Bible” series on the History Channel which concluded last night was a horrible affront to truth … It is the latest in a long list of such efforts including “The Passion of Christ” which take liberties and add details to the Scriptures as the producers worship the “almighty” dollar instead of Almighty God

  8. “This is not trying to teach us some bigger principle like, “Keep your clothes on for Christ!” or. “Nakedness is not next to godliness.”

    very funny; thanks so much for this; never saw it before; such an insight into our Great God!

    :)

    all the people were hanging on to every word He said. Luke 19:48b
    who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will nakedness? Rom 8: 3
    can we discover the depths of God? Job 11:7
    He will accomplish all His good pleasure Isa 46:10b

  9. Seems like you make a good point about the loose ends that make historical observations credible. Am also struck, however, by the sense of embarrassment and shame that is awakened in me by your reminder of this unusual reference to one who “runs off naked”… followed within a few hours by the public gawking that Jesus willingly endured hanging on a tree, as executioners gambled for his clothes. Is it necessarily naive to think that, in this case, it just might have been intentional– if not by Mark– by the Spirit– to use the embarrassment of one to help us feel the public humiliation of Another.

  10. Michael. I’m very disappointed. I really do think you’ve stumbled into heresy this time and I take this with great seriousness.

    You have a chance to mention a series on your blog and you bring up LOST instead of Smallville?!

    What on Earth has happened?!

  11. Here is my take on this. It is based on an article in JETS by a DTS prof. I enjoy that it comes up with a reasonable literary reason for the incident and avoids speculation on the identity. If he is not named, there is a reason for it. http://xulonjam.wordpress.com/2011/12/30/he-left-the-linen-cloth-and-ran-away-naked-mark-1451-52/

  12. Like I said, I have heard some of the literary explanations for this occurrence, but I think they may be giving possibilities that are too complex. The most simple explanation is that Mark included it because it happened and he, for some reason (possibly because it was him), found it was important enough for him to conclude. At the very least, it does present a rather humorous picture of that night.

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