Agony and Nakedness
Sunday Gospel Reflection for Palm Sunday
Mark 14:1-15: 47
One of my favorite traditions in the Church is sitting with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane after the Mass of the Lord's Supper. Though Easter is only days away, we are provided the opportunity to truly journey with Jesus through the many emotions of Holy Week. We don't skip ahead. We don't fast forward through the "scary" or "unpleasant" parts of the story. Rather, we embrace these moments because Jesus knows and loves us more than we know and love ourselves. After a beautiful, bittersweet Eucharistic Feast and Washing of the Feet, we are invited to stay and pray with Our Lord in Adoration. As God, Jesus knows that His Hour has arrived. As Man, Jesus knows He has been betrayed by those He trusted most. Not only did Judas turn Him into the Romans, but the rest of the disciples fell asleep when He needed them most.
Agony: intense pain of mind or body: anguish, torture or the agony of rejection the agony of defeat.
Jesus knew what awaited Him that night and His fear led him to sweat blood! Throughout the last three years of His public ministry, He made it clear that He lived to glorify the Father. Everything He said and did pointed others to the Father who generously pours out His love and mercy to His children. His ministry led up to this moment in the Garden. He felt scared. Alone. Overwhelmed. Exhausted.
As I reflect on the Agony in the Garden today, I think about those special moments in my life that I tried to savor as much as possible. The last meal before departing a nice trip visiting a friend. The last night with roommates before graduation day. A final song at a concert that was greatly anticipated. A sunset on a beloved birthday with loved ones. I have never been great at saying goodbye. I savor, savor, savor. After the goodbye, I am zonked (or "stupefied as if by alcohol or drugs"). I am overstimulated by the savoring and pour my whole self into the moments that passed. It takes me time to recover and let go of the moment that passed so I can truly welcome the moment to come.
I can imagine Jesus felt something similar to this as He shared countless meals with His disciples. He knew that this Passover meal was the last one before He had to say goodbye. He feels the same way with you as He cherishes every moment you spend with Him. He gave those who joined Him at Table His whole self. He sang with them, laughed with them, listened to them, and offered them His Body and Blood under the form of bread and wine. He gave all.
In the Garden, He assuredly felt all. the. feels. He felt joy after a special evening with those He loved. He felt rejected as Judas chose money over their friendship. He felt sadness over the fact that no one understood the gravity of what was occurring. He felt afraid as He imagined His horrific death. He felt abandoned as no one stayed awake with Him in His darkest moments. The list goes on and on because when God became Flesh, He experienced all parts of humanity. Whatever you have felt or experienced, Jesus knows and understands. He will never leave your side.
In Scripture, we are reminded again and again about how God never abandons us. Yet, we abandon Him. St. Mark recounts the story of Jesus being arrested in the Garden by adding the detail about an unidentified man running away naked. This detail may raise eyebrows or possibly even cause a chuckle or two as imagining such a scene is quite random and comical on the surface. If we see someone running around naked, we do not know how to respond other than awkwardly laughing. After the primary reaction of "what the??" after reading about the insertion of a naked man at the arrest of Jesus, we can begin to connect with this man.
Naked: (of a person or part of the body) without clothes; (of something such as feelings or behavior) undisguised; blatant.
When have you felt naked or undisguised in your life? How did Christ meet you there?
Last Palm Sunday, the universal Church was not worshipping together in churches but instead, families gathered in their homes. With candles surrounding my TV and a palm I have kept since the Papal Mass I attended in 2009, I sang "Hosanna" and listened to the Passion via live stream. A year later, we are still experiencing restrictions and cancelations. We miss loved ones who can't visit or who have passed away. Some of us may have lost businesses or livelihoods. All of us have lost the life we once knew and know that the world will be forever changed. In this year of quarantine, there have been many surprising joys and rich lessons learned. There are also many losses to grieve. We have been stripped of many things we were accustomed to in our lives. We have learned we are not in control. We are reminded of our mortality.
Regardless of social status, we were all quarantined. Regardless of race, we were all quarantined. Regardless of faith, we were all quarantined. Regardless of hometown, we were all quarantined.
The virus doesn't discriminate. Death doesn't discriminate. Sin doesn't discriminate.
So, what does this naked man from 2,000 years ago teach us today on Palm Sunday in 2021? We can run from God and still be welcomed home. We can sin and still be a Saint. The man in the story is understood to be St. Mark himself. He was not one of the original disciples but became an evangelist when He wrote down a summary of Peter's preaching. According to both Catholic Answers and commentary on Acts 12:12, the Last Supper likely took place in Mark's mother's house. Thus, "it is likely plausible that Judas Iscariot may have returned there first to betray Jesus. We can understand how Mark (dressed in nothing but a linen garment) was suddenly roused from his slumber and, recognizing the treachery that was unfolding, rushed to warn Jesus. Mark could have also been awakened by the commotion caused by the large crowd seeking Jesus and followed them to Gethsemane." (Catholic.com).
Like last Spring, none of us knew what we were in for as the pandemic spread across the world. We didn't choose it and we just want to run. We don't like being held back. We don't like being restricted. We don't like suffering. We are all very familiar with our instinctual fight or flight response. Mark was no different. He was caught by surprise. He didn't know the scene he was entering. He didn't understand who this Jesus guy was. He was curious. He was present. He came to warn Jesus before He was arrested. He tried to save Jesus from suffering so Mark definitely didn't want to suffer in the process. He ran. He left everything behind including his last garment and fled.
This white linen garment can also point to our Baptismal promises. How often do we run from the graces of our Baptism:
Do you reject Satan? I do. And all his works? I do. And all his empty promises? I do. Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth? I do. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father? I do. Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting? I do. God, the all-powerful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven all our sins. May he also keep us faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ for ever and ever. Amen.
We say we believe in God and reject Satan, yet we run from God.
We say we believe in the forgiveness of sins, yet we stay away from Reconciliation.
We say we believe in the resurrection of the body, yet have a hard time believing in God when a loved one dies.
We say we believe in the communion of saints, yet we don't ask for their intercession.
We say we believe in the holy Catholic church, yet we don't obey or participate fully.
This Holy Week, Jesus is aware that we feel tired and caught off guard after the crazy year we have endured. We have entered into a troubling scene we never expected and long for freedom again even if it means we run from grace. Though Mark found himself in the predicament because he ran toward Christ, he is remembered for running away naked. Powerless. Embarrassed. Poor. Scared.
We can find hope in this story as Mark became a Saint. We know this Gospel because Mark wrote it down and shared it with all of us. Even in our most embarrassing, humiliating, least glorious moments, God is at work. He brings us back to Him and wants to glorify His life through our stories. Though Mark didn't identify himself in the story, he included the details. In Scripture, every detail matters. When someone is not named, we are able to better wrestle with the mystery and identify with the character.
This Holy Week, I feel more connected than ever with this odd, seemingly random character. I feel naked and exposed when sharing my story with the world, but remember my white linen garment and stand in the truth of my identity as a beloved daughter of the King. I do not suffer well and don't like when Jesus asks me to do hard things. A year ago, I was panicking about living alone during quarantine. I fought my instinct to run from God's invitation and encountered God's presence in ways like I never have before. Today, I am aware that God's thoughts and ways are higher than mine. Praise God for that!
Though St. Mark ran from suffering on that scary night Jesus was arrested, he ended up embracing the cross as he was martyred for his faith years later. If we have run from God in the past, let us run towards the cross this Holy Week. Let us be saints!
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