“But he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” Mark 14:52
In the Gospel of Mark, the disciples flee Jesus when he needs them the most. They fit a theme, as David Rhoads suggests, that those closest to Jesus tend to be the farthest from loyalty.
The pattern starts with his family. When hearing that Jesus is in town, they try to seize him, labeling him as crazy (Mark 3:21). Eventually Judas, the rest of the twelve, a young man in Gethsemane, Peter in the courtyard of the high priest, the crowds at the trial, and finally the women at the tomb abandon him. All of them fled.
Jesus asked one thing of those around him to “be with him” (Mark 3:13-14; 14:34). They struggled with what that call entailed. The disciples, and many of those in the larger network, were not necessarily against Jesus. They were just never really for him either. They enjoyed the miracles, liked the teaching, admired the character, and took much of his advice. But the sign of the true disciple who was one who in the end was able to “take up the cross and follow me.”
Jesus’ call to discipleship challenges us to be for Him in the same ways that he was for the world: the many places, people, and ways that Jesus lived. This call sends us to touch the untouchable, love the unlovable, and cast out the evil in the lives and systems of our world. It means responding with humility over pride and peacemaking over hostility. When others would call for more war, preemptive strikes, and hostility, the life of Christ as we are reminded in the garden of Gethsemane puts away the swords and surrenders the weapons of power. This life resorts to prayer and sacrifice as the means to true life.
During the season of Lent, we are confronted with those same questions again. What does it meant to be “all in” for Jesus? No one would dare speak against his teachings or life; but if those closest to Mark are any example, we who desire to be close Christ today best be warned. The rare follower stays with him all the way. It’s in this season that God’s grace enables us to remain with him, even if we’re the only one left standing.
Image: James Jacques Tissot (1836-1902), "The Flight of the Apostles". Brooklyn Museum, New York