Home Homilies Michael Whelan SM, PhD Gospel for Palm Sunday (Year B) (24 March 2024)

Gospel for Palm Sunday (Year B) (24 March 2024)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

The Plot to Kill Jesus
(Mt 26.1–5; Lk 22.1–2; Jn 11.45–53)

14 It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; 2 for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

The Anointing at Bethany
(Mt 26.6–13; Jn 12.1–8)

3 While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. 4 But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus
(Mt 26.14–16; Lk 22.3–6)

10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

The Passover with the Disciples
(Mt 26.17–25; Lk 22.7–13; Jn 13.21–30)

12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 13 So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 16 So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

17 When it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
(Mt 26.26–29; Lk 22.14–23; 1 Cor 11.23–26)

22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

Peter’s Denial Foretold
(Mt 26.30–35; Lk 22.31–34; Jn 13.36–38)

26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’

28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” 30 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same.

Jesus Prays in Gethsemane
(Mt 26.36–46; Lk 22.39–46)

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 37 He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38 Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus
(Mt 26.47–56; Lk 22.47–53; Jn 18.1–11)

43 Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 45 So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. 47 But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 48 Then Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 All of them deserted him and fled.

51 A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

Jesus before the Council
(Mt 26.57–68; Lk 22.66–71; Jn 18.12–14, 19–24)

53 They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. 54 Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. 56 For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. 57 Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’ ” 59 But even on this point their testimony did not agree. 60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 Jesus said, “I am; and

‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’ ”

63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. 65 Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.

Peter Denies Jesus
(Mt 26.69–75; Lk 22.54–62; Jn 18.15–18, 25–27)

66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. 69 And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” 72 At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Jesus before Pilate
(Mt 27.1–2, 11–14; Lk 23.1–5, 13–16; Jn 18.28–38a)

15 As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2 Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” 3 Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5 But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Pilate Hands Jesus over to Be Crucified
(Mt 27.15–26; Lk 23.18–25; Jn 18.38b–19.16)

6 Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7 Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8 So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. 9 Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12 Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 14 Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

The Soldiers Mock Jesus
(Mt 27.27–31)

16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18 And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20 After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

The Crucifixion of Jesus
(Mt 27.32–44; Lk 23.26–43; Jn 19.16b–27)

21 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22 Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

The Death of Jesus
(Mt 27.45–56; Lk 23.44–49; Jn 19.28–30)

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

The Burial of Jesus
(Mt 27.57–61; Lk 23.50–56; Jn 19.38–42)

42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. 45 When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

From The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (Mk 14:1–15:47). (1993). National Council of Churches of Christ.

Introductory notes


“What can we learn about the events of Jesus’ last days? One thing is certain: he was condemned to death during the reign of Tiberius, by the governor Pontius Pilate. We have that information from Tacitus, the famous Roman historian (The Annals, 15, 44, 3). Flavius Josephus says the same thing and adds some interesting details: Jesus ‘attracted many Jews and many people of Greek origin. And when Pilate, because of an accusation lodged by some of our leaders, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him did not stop loving him’ (Jewish Antiquities, 18, 3, 3). These details coincide with what we know from the Christian sources. We can summarize them as follows: Jesus was executed on a cross; the sentence was handed down by the Roman governor; he had been accused earlier by the Jewish authorities; Jesus alone was crucified, with no attempt to eliminate his followers. This means that Jesus was considered dangerous because he denounced the roots of the prevailing system, but neither the Jewish nor the Roman authorities saw him as the leader of an insurrectionist group; otherwise they would have taken action against the whole group. In this case it was enough to eliminate the leader, but at the same time they needed to terrorize his followers and sympathizers. Nothing could do that more effectively than a public crucifixion, witnessed by the crowds that filled the city” (José A Pagola, Jesus: An Historical Approximation, Revised Edition, translated by Margaret Wilde, Convivium Press, 2007/2015, 353).

There are remarkable similarities in the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ passion and death. All of them make similar references to the following:

  • The treachery of Judas – but only Luke and John link this with “Satan”;
  • Peter’s denials – the foretelling and the actual denials;
  • The prayer in the garden;
  • The arrest of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane;
  • Jesus before the Sanhedrin;
  • Jesus before Pilate;
  • The crucifixion;
  • The burial;
  • The empty tomb.

There are also some significant variations in the Gospel accounts, including the following:

  • Only the synoptics tell of
    • the actual moment of treachery of Judas,
    • the preparation for the Passover,
    • the institution of the Eucharistic meal,
    • the moment Jesus is taken before Pilate,
    • the mocking of Jesus on the cross.
  • Only Matthew tells us of
    • the death of Judas and the guard at the tomb. He is also the only one who has Judas join in the questioning as to who will betray Jesus. Interestingly enough, Judas calls Jesus “Rabbi”, the others call him “Lord”. In fact, Judas is the only one to call Jesus “Rabbi” in Matthew’s Gospel. (See also Acts 1:18-19, the only other place where Judas and his end are mentioned: “Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.”)
  • Only Matthew, Mark and John tell us of the crowning with thorns.
  • Only Matthew and John speak of the option for Barabbas – Matthew makes much more of it than John.
  • Only Mark has the young man who runs off naked when Jesus is being arrested.
  • John’s account of the actual death of Jesus differs from that of the synoptics; John alone places Mary the mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross.

Mark is generally regarded as the earliest of the Gospels. Matthew and Luke have borrowed much from Mark – including his reporting of the passion. It seems reasonable, in turn, to assume that Mark himself is writing down a well-formed oral tradition concerning the last hours of Jesus’ life. One commentator writes: “All the Synoptic accounts of the passion, despite their internal variation, stand in some contrast to that of John. They emphasize the great distress and sorrow of Jesus the night before his death (Mark 14:33ff and parallels), and highlight the abuse and mocking he receives on the cross itself (Mark 15:29ff and parallels). Above all, with amazing frankness, Mark and Matthew report that Jesus died not with a cry of achievement on his lips, but with a howl of desolation (Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46)” (Alan E Lewis, Between Cross & Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday, Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans, 2001, 35).

In Mark’s account, we sense the growing isolation of Jesus as chapter 14 unfolds – the longest chapter in Mark’s Gospel, being 72 verses long. The chapter opens with the conspiracy of “the chief priests and the scribes” and is followed by a series of vignettes that create an unforgiving sense of isolation:

  • a “woman” comes into the house of Simon the leper – where Jesus is having a meal – and she anoints Jesus “for his burial”;
  • Judas approaches the chief priests to arrange for Jesus’ betrayal;
  • the last meal with his friends and during that meal he takes the bread and breaks it and says, “this is my body” and the cup and says “this is my blood”;
  • at this same meal Judas’ treachery is foretold as is Peter’s denial;
  • Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane and his friends sleep;
  • Jesus is arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin.

Chapter 15 takes us more deeply into the passion narrative. It tells us of the “trial” before Pilate, the crowning with thorns, Jesus carrying his cross to Calvary, the crucifixion, the mockery by those who passed by, the death of Jesus, the presence of a small group of women and the burial by Joseph of Arimathea. The story is one of desolation and failure. This Friday is not “good”! One scholar speaks of Mark’s “unflattering account of Jesus’ godforsakenness and desolation” (Alan E Lewis, op cit, 36.) Lewis goes on to note that “this could never have been ‘invented’ by the Gospel writers but must be based on history” (Ibid).


“Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?”: One commentator writes: “Jesus knows his hours are numbered. But he is not planning to hide or flee. Instead he arranges a special farewell dinner with the men and women closest to him. It is a solemn and intimate moment for him and his disciples; he wants to experience it in all its depth. This is a well thought-out decision. Aware of his imminent death, he needs to convey to them his total trust in the Father, even in this hour. He wants to prepare them for the crushing blow that awaits them; his execution must not plunge them into sadness or hopelessness. They need to share the questions that they are all pondering: what will become of God’s reign without Jesus? What should they do? Where will they turn now, to nourish their hope for the coming reign of God?” (José Pagola, Jesus: An Historical Approximation (translated by Margaret Wilde, Convivium Press, 2007/2015, 345-346).

The author then goes on to say – in agreement with most modern scholars – that it is not a Passover meal: “The description never once alludes to the Passover liturgy; it says nothing of the Paschal lamb or the bitter herbs that Jews eat that night; it does not ritually recall the departure from Egypt as the liturgy prescribes. Moreover, it would be unthinkable, on that evening when families are celebrating the most important meal in the Jewish calendar, for the chief priests and assistants to drop everything to arrest Jesus and arrange a late-night meeting to decide on the specific charges against him. …. Probably Jesus did make the Jerusalem pilgrimage to celebrate Passover with his disciples, but he could not fulfill his wish, because he was arrested and tried before then. He did have time to celebrate a farewell dinner, however” (Ibid). According to John 18:28, Jesus was in fact crucified on the day before Passover” (Ibid).

Mark – like Matthew and Luke – links the farewell meal explicitly to the Passover. This is natural enough given the timing and the historical and theological significance of the Passover. However, we need to be careful that we do not miss the deep and beautiful significance of Jesus asking for a last meal with his friends, men and women who had travelled with him and were loyal to him and his message. Meals and table fellowship in that culture were of great symbolic importance. And Jesus had compared the reign of God to a meal in which “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” take part – see Luke 14:15-24 and Matthew 22:2-10. Even Gentiles – like you and me – will take part in that banquet – see Luke 13:28-29 and Matthew 8:11-12.

But let the scriptures be fulfilled: This is the NRSV translation. NIV and NKJV translate: “But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” These latter two translations bring out more strongly the sense of inevitability because this is the way God wants it. Yes, Jesus got offside with the religious authorities because he claimed to be “the Christ …. the Son of the Blessed One” (see Mark 14:61); and yes, Pilate – caretaker of the Pax Romana in Judea – would have had reason to be very anxious when the religious authorities brought Jesus before him and a restless crowd gathered. The question remains: How did the Gospel writers understand the reason for Jesus’ death? Clearly they – and the first Christians – saw his death not as part of a plan of the Jewish religious authorities nor as part of a plan of a Roman governor keen to get rid of a potential trouble maker but as part of a plan of God.

In fidelity to the Gospels we must speak of the liberating Cross not the consequential Cross. The cross is part This is what makes Christianity unique amongst world religions. Jesus is not first and foremost a moral exemplar or moral teacher. Jesus is first and foremost Redeemer and Saviour. Hans Kung writes: ““The cross …. is the element which radically distinguishes Christian faith and the Lord who is the object of this faith from other religions and their gods.” (Hans Kung, “What is the Christian Message?” in The Catholic Mind, 68 (December 1970), p.32).

A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked: A fascinating piece to be added to such a dramatic text! Scholars are divided on its interpretation: “After that tragic climax the mysterious story of the young man with the linen cloth seems to us like an anticlimax, almost as light relief. But there is no sign that Mark intended it in that way. It adds yet more to the sense of Jesus’ abandonment, in that not only the Eleven but even this anonymous sympathiser can only run away. We do not know who he was, but it is a reasonable guess that he was someone who might be known to Mark’s readers and could corroborate the story of his undignified escape through the olive groves (cf. the mention of the otherwise irrelevant Alexander and Rufus, 15:21). Beyond that all is conjecture, including the suggestion, hallowed by frequent repetition, that it was Mark writing himself anonymously into his own story in a minor role in the manner of Alfred Hitchcock. It may be quite a good conjecture, in that it does at least offer some reason for the inclusion of what otherwise appears a very inconsequential coda to the Gethsemane story.

“Many commentators find this episode too trivial to deserve its place in the narrative at a purely factual level, and so seek a symbolic purpose. Not many have been convinced by the attempt to derive it from the OT. More frequently it is noted that σινδών occurs also in 15:46 for Jesus’ burial shroud, and on this basis some suggest that this story in some way prefigures the resurrection account, which will also include a νεανίσκος who was περιβεβλημένος στολὴν λευκήν (16:5) as well as the motif of running away (16:8). Myers, 368–69, asserts that nonsymbolic interpretations of the incident ‘insult the literary integrity of the gospel’, and finds a link with the resurrection pericope in that the young man, who represents the disciples, is there ‘rehabilitated’ in a white robe, symbolising the ultimate rehabilitation of the disciple community. Many suggest also a baptismal motif underlying the young man’s abandoning of his σινδών, when this is linked with the στολὴ λευκή of 16:5. But the verbal links which are used to support any association of this νεανίσκος with the one introduced in 16:5 are altogether too slender to support the supposed connection (see below on 16:5); nor does the range of competing and sometimes conflicting interpretations based on this supposed link inspire confidence.

“Taking this cameo then at its face value within the narrative context, we are introduced here to someone additional to the Eleven, who are all included in v. 50. νεανίσκος τις suggests someone of no special importance; moreover, someone who had come directly to Gethsemane from the Passover meal would not have been dressed as this young man was. But he is sufficiently identified with the Jesus party to be seized by the guards. Here then is a sympathetic bystander (note συνηκολούθει αὐτῷ, a phrase which could denote a sort of ‘associate disciple’, though it need mean no more than someone following through curiosity). We have considered at v. 47 the possibility of such bystanders at Jesus’ arrest, though this one, far from being armed, was apparently very inadequately clothed, the σινδών being presumably a cloth worn as a loose ἱμάτιον, easily discarded, rather than a χιτών with sleeves. The ignominious flight of this anonymous sympathiser serves in the narrative context to underline the complete failure of Jesus’ friends to support him when the moment came. Apart from his captors, Jesus leaves Gethsemane alone. (See on 10:32–34 for this mysterious young man’s dubious role in the ‘Secret Gospel’.) (R T France, The Gospel of Mark: a commentary on the Greek text, W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2002, 595-597).

An odd detail

In today’s Gospel – Mark 14:1 –15:47 – we have an account of the passion and death of Jesus. In the midst of this intense drama, Mark has included an odd but striking detail: “A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked” (14:52). None of the other Gospels mentions this detail. We might ask some questions: Is that “certain young man” Mark himself? Are we to seek special symbolism in the detail? Why had “the young man followed him”? What happened to the young man later? The image of that young man standing in the shadows, grabbed by one of those carrying “swords and clubs”, wrestling himself free and scampering off into the night, naked, is certainly intriguing.

We simply do not know anything more than Mark actually tells us in those two sentences. By way of background, perhaps we can recognize some resonances from the Hebrew Scriptures: In the Prophet Amos we read: “Those who are stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day, says the Lord” (2:16), and in the First Book of Maccabees: “When his accusers saw the honor that was paid him, in accord with the proclamation, and saw him clothed in purple, they all fled” (10:64).

The young man seems to be an innocent, perhaps curious, bystander as Judas turns up with “a crowd with swords and clubs” to arrest Jesus. The disciples who had all shared the cup with him (14:23), had all pledged their loyalty unto death with him (14:31), all deserted him in the face of the threatening crowd (14:50). Judas was not the only one to betray Jesus.

The young man is grabbed. He wrestles himself free but loses his “linen cloth”. He gets away and runs off. He too deserts Jesus.

One scholar writes: “Mark’s leaving (the young man) unidentified appears to be intentional and purposeful. The young man represents all who fled in desperation when mayhem broke out at the arrest of Jesus. This particular story speaks for all present. His lack of identity also invites readers to examine their own readiness to abandon Jesus” (J R Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002, 440-441).

Only someone who is unaware of their own brokenness is going to pass judgment on those who “deserted” Jesus that night. The stark irony of this scene is that they all need the one they are deserting. Isn’t that the irony of our lives? St Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans: “There is no one righteous, not even one.… All have turned away” (3:9–12).

That young man scampering off into the night, naked, is you and me. Remaining close to Jesus in the most horrible moment of his life, can be a special source of grace in the most horrible moments of my life.