Sermon: Lent 4 RCL A – “Mark”

Clotile would haul Boudreaux to church every Sunday morning and make him sit on the front row with her, because, as she liked to remind him on a regular basis, “It was probably as close to Jesus and heaven as he was ever going to get.”

Well one Sunday, as the preacher of the First Atchafalaya Church of the Redeemer was getting his second wind about 30 minutes into the sermon, wouldn’t you know it, but Satan appeared. Seeing who it was, the preacher, Clotile, and all the parishioners were crawling out windows and trampling one another in a frantic effort to get out of there. All except Boudreaux who just sat there calmly staring up at the Devil with a very disinterested look on his face.

Satan walked up to Boudreaux and said, “Don’t you know who I am?”

Boudreaux replied, ”Yep, sure do.”

“Aren’t you going to run?”

“Nope, sure ain’t,” said Boudreaux.

Satan asked, “Well why not? Aren’t you afraid of me?”

Boudreaux looked him square in the eye and answered, “Nope. Been married to your sister for 48 years.”

In the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before he was crucified, Jesus prayed. Soon afterwards the one who betrayed him came with the officials to arrest him. Judas said to them, “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.”  Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. (Mark 14:44-45) They made to arrest him, Peter cut off the ear of one of the guards, but when things settled, Jesus said, “‘Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?  Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.’  Then everyone deserted him and fled.  A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.” (Mark 14:48-52)

When they arrested Jesus, they also grabbed a young man by his robes, who was a disciple of Jesus, with plans to arrest him along with Jesus, but the young man wriggled out of his clothes and fled naked into the darkness. We’ve said before that there wasn’t room for fluff in the Gospels and that what appears to us to be extraneous information was actually included for a reason, so I ask you this: what is behind the inclusion of these details about the young man running naked through the Garden of Gethsemane?

There has been widespread speculation on Mark’s intent in including these details and many have proposed a good bit of theological significance to it, but a long held tradition from some of the Church Fathers tells us the explanation could actually be much simpler. The Church Fathers tell us that the inclusion of this piece of information is autobiographical. They say Mark is telling us that he is the young man and that it was he who was so afraid, that he ran off naked.

So today, as we continue to observe the witnesses of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, I would like for us to look a bit more closely at this streaking disciple and what his actions on that night say about us all, because, like good ol’ Boudreaux, I think you and I are much more likely to flee from God than we are from the Devil. Why? Consider our Gospel reading today.

Jesus has healed the man born blind, yet the Pharisees do not believe it. They question him, but he holds to his story. Seeking to find witnesses against him, the Pharisees call forward the man’s parents. They agree that this is their son who was born blind, but they do not know how he can now see. They then say, “‘Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’” (cf. John 9:18-23) They were afraid to declare Jesus Messiah, because they were afraid of what that might cost them.

To be afraid is a natural human response, and Aristotle defined fear nicely: “Fear is pain arising from the anticipation of evil.” So we are afraid when we think something bad is going to happen, whether that bad – that evil is physical or spiritual. Mark anticipated evil when the guards grabbed hold of him. The blind man’s parents experienced that same anticipation of evil when they were hauled before the Pharisees, afraid of what they would do to them. And seeing Jesus in the Garden, praying, and sweating drops of blood (cf. Luke 22:44), we know that he also experienced fear, the anticipation of the evil that was to come; yet Jesus’ response to that fear differed from Mark’s and the parent’s. Jesus did not run, nor did Jesus deny his Father; instead, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

There are times when the proper response to fear is to run away. Stir up a nest of hornets? Run away. Upset a member of the Altar Guild? Run away. The Devil pops up in church? Yeah, run away. However, confronted for your faith in Christ? Don’t you budge. Spoken evil of for your works of righteousness? You stand your ground and pray the words of Jesus, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Counted among the simpletons of the world for proclaiming the Good News? My good friend St. Josemaría Escrivá writes, “I read a proverb which is very popular in some countries: ‘God owns the world, but he rents it out to the brave’, and it made me think — What are you waiting for?” (The Furrow, #99) Counted among the simpletons? Be brave, pay the rent, and stand your ground.

There will be times when we are afraid and want to either physically or spiritually run from our association with God. On those days, even though fear is natural, you pray those words of Jesus or you pray the words of King David wrote,

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

Instead of being afraid of what others will do or say because you are near God or associated with Him, know that, instead, you are blessed, for Jesus told us, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” (Matthew 10:28) On the day of evil, stand your ground.

Let us pray: O God, who raised up Saint Mark, your Evangelist, and endowed him with the grace to preach the Gospel, grant, we pray, that we may so profit from his teaching as to follow faithfully in the footsteps of Christ. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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