57. Mark 14:43-51: Betrayal
A group of armed men arrive to take Jesus in tow. They are likely authorized by the Sanhedrin to arrest and detain the awaiting trial before it (Boring, Mark: 10935-10937). Jesus protests that he is no brigand requiring armed capture. The betrayer, Judas, appears and scene to do the foul deed. A bystander wields his sword in Jesus’ defense and cuts of the ear of the chief priest’s slave. And all Jesus’ friends desert him.
Except one. A mysterious young man wearing a linen cloth remains present. “They,” presumably the crowd arresting Jesus, grab to him to detain him as well as one of Jesus’ cohorts. But who is he? Mark himself? So many have guessed. Opinions run the gamut. N. T. Wright takes this a symbol of the final and total disgrace of the deserting disciples.
“Finally, we have the young man who, like Joseph in Genesis 39.12, escapes by leaving his garment behind. It’s often been suggested that this was Mark himself (the other gospels don’t mention the incident); though it’s impossible to prove it, it is a quite reasonable guess. Whether or not that is so, the imagery is striking, going back as far as Genesis 3. Like Adam and Eve, the disciples are metaphorically, and in this case literally, hiding their naked shame in the garden. Their disgrace is complete” (Wright, Mark, 247).
Gundry, on the other hand, sees it a positive pointer
“Who is this young man? What’s his name? Why is he wearing only a linen cloth? How come he’s following with Jesus when the disciples have fled? Why do the crowd seize him prior to his slipping out of the linen cloth? Mark leaves all these questions unanswered; so the young man’s significance lies elsewhere. The crowd’s seizing the young man parallels their having seized Jesus (14:46). The young man’s wearing a linen cloth anticipates the linen cloth in which Jesus will be buried (15:46, where “the linen cloth” recalls the mention here of “a linen cloth”). The young man’s leaving behind the linen cloth anticipates Jesus’ resurrection, portrayed as a leaving behind of his linen burial cloth. And Mark will call the angel who in Jesus’ empty tomb announces Jesus’ resurrection—Mark will call that angel “a young man” (16:5–7) to recollectively associate the present young man with Jesus’ resurrection” (Robert H. Gundry, Mark, 242).
I’m inclined to combine these interpretations myself. The young man’s flight seems to point to the disgrace of the disciples’ desertion. Yet the presence of a “young man” at Jesus’ tomb and Jesus’ shedding the “linen cloths” of his death clothes seem to be connected as well. Might it be a symbol of the disciples’ acceptance in spite of their sin and failure? That would be a powerful sign and in line with Mark’s oblique style.
At any rate, the crisis for Jesus and for humanity draws nigh and breaks this night over Jesus’ head.