Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | November 30, 2011

Naked Man Syndrome

I’ve been thinking about the Naked Man Syndrome. No, this does not mean I’m thinking about Penn State or any similar horrors, but something far more simple. In fact, the syndrome I’m thinking of is straight out of the Gospel of Mark:

“Then they all forsook Him and fled.
Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.”
Mark 14:50-51

Oddly enough, as many times as I’ve read through the Gospels, my eyes never saw this before. And though I haven’t tried to make a poll of it, I’ve not found many aware of it either. We read these books looking for what we think should find there, but like the famous film of the gorilla walking through a gang of folks throwing a ball…. we don’t see what we’re not looking for. The notes to the Orthodox Study Bible detail that Holy Fathers suggest this is in fact an autobiographic comment where Mark admits his own shame in the arrest, but I wonder that there isn’t more here in a rather simple way – too obvious to these Fathers to comment.

I wonder that like the gorilla in the film example that this isn’t the measure (and an almost wordless parable of its own) of how difficult it really was for the Hebrews of the time and for us today… to see Christ, the real Jesus Christ son of God and all that. If we missed seeing the naked man in the Gospels, then maybe we can understand how easy it was for others to miss seeing God Himself. We see what we think we’re supposed to – and to those of us of the christian era the notion that God could become incarnate in the body of a particular person is not unimagined as it would have been for those of the time for whom their chief innovation was the unseen God for whom there was neither image nor substance nor idol. Consider that if it is this difficult for us to see something unexpected in either a text or movie in our own time, then perhaps it becomes easier to understand how those of an earlier era were similarly limited. What we see today as obvious in retrospect is/was far less so the first time.

But I also like the autobiographical note. The sense that Mark who was with Christ at the arrest may not have denied Christ as did Peter, but he certainly sought an earthly, temporal salvation as completely at odds with the preaching of Christ by saving his own skin in this way, by struggling so hard to get free of the hands laid on him, that he tore through his clothes and left them behind. I even wonder whether this isn’t meant to parallel the moment only a little later in Mark (14:63) where the high priest accusing Christ of blasphemy “tore his own clothes, and said ‘What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?”

Indeed, what do we think? Clearly Mark’s action shows what He thought when push came to grab, clearly the High Priest thinks the same – and indeed his neck too is potentially on the line if he can’t satisfy the Romans that order can be kept. Can we really rest so assured that we would act (and therefore really think) differently from these two IN the story? We sit beside it as we read, and some of us enter it by choice or pretend as though we do, but the question comes straight to us.

And the thought that Mark accompanied Peter, that his Gospel reflects Peter’s preaching… only makes this more powerful. Mark stands in for all the other disciples who fled. He admits it, and surely his admission reflects his repentance. The question of whether we see ourselves in this naked man’s admission… that he ran, that he was afraid to offend by admitting his Christianity, that he preferred his own skin in this world and in this moment to the uncertain promises of a darkening and violent future concretely bleeding into his present. What is the armor that protects us from this? or is there none? Have we made ourselves as literally naked of pretense before the Lord as Mark has… and has this come through our shame and repentance or some other means. Following is hard work, and FWIW, I don’t find I’m doing such a great job of it. Show me a naked (somewhat) fasting man… and I’ll show you a dude whose sins are plainer to see than he’d like.

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