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:
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.