And immediately, while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now His betrayer had given them a signal, saying, "Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead Him away safely." As soon as he had come, immediately, he went up to Him and said to Him, "Rabbi, Rabbi!" and kissed Him. Then they laid their hands on Him and took Him. And one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled." 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 14:43-52
Yesterday, we read that Jesus said to His disciples at the Last Supper, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: 'I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee." Peter said to Him, "Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be." Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times." But he spoke more vehemently, "If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" And they all said likewise. Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, "Sit here while I pray." And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch." He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will." Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words. And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him. Then He came the third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand."
And immediately, while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now His betrayer had given them a signal, saying, "Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead Him away safely." As soon as he had come, immediately, he went up to Him and said to Him, "Rabbi, Rabbi!" and kissed Him. Then they laid their hands on Him and took Him. My study bible tells us that the fact that a kiss was needed to signal this mob is an indication about who comprises it. The Jewish leaders and even the most common people would have recognized Jesus. What this scene shows us is that these soldiers were mercenaries, sent by the chief priests and the scribes and the elders, and that it contained Roman troops (according to John 18:3). It seems likely that they could not get others to participate in such a plan, for many reasons. In the Orthodox Christian liturgy, there is a prayer not to kiss Jesus in betrayal like Judas.
And one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled." Then they all forsook Him and fled. In John 18:10-11, the person with the sword is identified as Peter. Jesus says, "Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?" In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword," and tells them He could pray to the Father who would supply Him with twelve legions of angels to save Him. In Luke's Gospel, Jesus heals the ear of the servant of the high priest. Jesus notes clearly that they have come against Him in the night as if He's a robber, while He was teaching daily and openly in the temple. That "the Scriptures must be fulfilled" is another way of indicating to all, including the disciples, that He's going willingly.
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. We remember they've all been awakened from sleep in the middle of the night. My study bible tells us that the flee naked is a great shame and humiliation (Ezekiel 16:39, Amos 2:16). Some say this was James, the brother of the Lord (Galatians 1:19), others that it was the apostle John who was the youngest of the twelve. But most believe it was Mark who is the author of this Gospel. It was a common literary device for a writer not to give his own name (Luke 24:13, John 21:24). Also, the other evangelists don't report this incident -- they wouldn't have been inclined to humiliate Mark, while Mark would have been more likely to reveal such an event concerning himself.
If we think about it, today's whole reading is a kind of scene of humiliation. Christ is betrayed by one of His chosen twelve, with a kiss. It's the middle of the night. Jesus has been praying all night, and although He has asked them to keep watch with Him, the apostles are roused from sleep. It's a kind of scene in which we can imagine they are in fight-or-flight mode, a sort of dazed shock. An automatic response is defense, with a sword, but that is put down by Jesus who is the One who is calm and knows and accepts what is happening. It becomes occasion for another kind of teaching, and acceptance, and direction to the apostles about what is happening. A young man, most likely the author of this Gospel, runs with just a linen cloth to cover him -- he tries to follow Christ, but the soldiers seize at him too, and he flees away naked. The disciples are scattered, as Jesus predicted, quoting Zechariah ("I will strike the Shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered"). This is not the usual way we think about heroism. It's not a brave story of a great and valiant battle, soldiers on a battlefield in a fight for their lives. No, this is something completely different. There's no superhero to save the day, no magic coming out of the sky, not even the legions of angels Jesus assures the rest of them that He could pray for to the Father and would indeed be sent to save Him. No, this is it. This is the time of ultimate betrayal and seizure and humiliation. It is the Lord brought low, so to speak. The Christ Himself, as infinitely vulnerable human being, God bound and chained and seized by foreign soldiers, betrayed into the hands of enemies and sinners. This is something that, to this day, we have to struggle a little to wrap our heads around, to come to terms with, to see the true heroism in what doesn't look heroic or epic or awesome or any of the other kinds of descriptions we might give it. This is something we have to understand with a mature mind. We have to know something of the courage of sacrifice to understand this, and the courage that comes from love. We have to understand the heroism that comes from sacrifice in order to gain something better for others you love, no matter how it looks for you. And that's our royal king, teaching us how to be royal sons and daughters like Him, where it's not the opinions and raves of the world that count, but rather the inner life, the reality of where it comes down to you and God, who you are and what you love. Our hero is the one who overcomes the world, and this is how He does it.