Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Naked Man Running - Passion Sunday

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Click here to listen to Homily: 

Today, as the Passion is proclaimed, we enter into holy week -- the holiest week of the year. The Church invites us, after the proclamation of the gospel, to give a brief homily, and I’d like to reflect on one passage in particular. It’s only found in Mark, which we heard today, and it reminds me of a common nightmare many people have experienced. It’s an absurd nightmare, and the passage I’ve chosen to reflect on can also seem so absurd that we even kind of laugh at it.

The common nightmare is that you’re driving to work, or you’re off to make an important speech, or you’re about to walk out in front of a large crowd, and you realize you’re completely naked. There’s this sense of embarrassment and shame.

In today’s gospel, we hear about Jesus being betrayed by the kiss of Judas, then we hear He’s denied three times by Peter. When He’s handed over for His crucifixion, His disciples leave Him, so He has this experience of everyone abandoning Him, denying Him, and fleeing from Him. We finally hear this, found only in Mark: “Now a young man followed Him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about His body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.”

So, he was seized, and he was so terrified that he left his clothes behind, and he ran off naked into the sunset. When we were created, we were naked without shame before God. From the time of the fall, there’s been a tendency to run and to hide from God, so if you think of Adam and Eve, they were afraid because they were naked, and so they hid.

Scripture scholars debate about who this young man in Mark’s gospel was. The man was not named. All we know about him is that he was wearing nothing but a linen cloth -- so, a white cloth. Many scholars believe this is symbolic of us; symbolic of the newly-baptized. When you were baptized, you were given a white cloth, and at that moment of baptism, you became a disciple of Christ. So this man is symbolic of us.

Now Jesus, when He was entering into His passion, was abandoned by His closest friends. He was betrayed by the kiss of Judas and denied by Peter. Even His disciples fled, and then there was this man who came in the white cloth, symbolic of all of us, and “when he was seized, he left his clothes and ran away naked.”

Ultimately, this holy week is our moment of truth -- to see if you and I will stand by Jesus in His passion. It’s the moment of truth to see if we are willing to suffer and remain with Him in His suffering or if, when we are seized, we will run away, terrified and naked, embarrassed and in shame.

The truth is, each and every one of us, as we enter into this holy week, will be tempted to distract ourselves from the Passion. This is the holiest of holies. Palm Sunday we read the entire Passion because it sets the tone for entering into the passion of Jesus. During this week, you’re going to have many opportunities to enter into that passion. The most important days are Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday: the Triduum. It’s one liturgy celebrated over three days.

Holy Thursday includes the washing of the feet. It’s the commemoration of the institution of the priesthood and of the Eucharist. We will have Mass, and that is the beginning of the liturgy. At the end, there’s no blessing, there’s no singing. We leave in silence. Good Friday we come back and continue that service. We venerate the cross by coming forward and kissing it. Again, we leave in silence, and then we spend that time, from noon until three, in silence. On Holy Saturday, we come back at dark for the Easter vigil. There’s a fire outside, and we participate in the Church’s most sacred liturgical celebration of the year. We all have candles, and we listen to the readings in darkness. That leads us, finally, to the passion, to the death, and ultimately to the Resurrection.

You have a great opportunity to enter into this holy week.

Now maybe, at the beginning of Lent, you made some kind of resolution for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and maybe you’ve given up on that. I encourage you to redouble your efforts and really enter into this holy week. Allow it to be a time of sacredness and devoutness for you. During the sacred mysteries, Jesus gives us this opportunity to walk with Him as He is crucified, to stand with Him as He suffers and dies -- to be with Him through the Paschal mystery -- and ultimately to enter into His resurrection.

Now the difficulty is, we hear about this disciple, this newly-baptized disciple, who leaves his garment and runs away naked. You will be tempted not to enter into this Passion. You will be distracted and tempted to do some other things -- to play some sports, to take in some entertainment or to participate in other leisure activities. Ultimately this holy week is your moment of truth. You are that disciple who has the opportunity to stay with Jesus in His passion, or to flee to do something else.

For the Marcan community in the time this gospel was written, there was persecution. Mark would give the people this challenge, and it’s a challenge all of us are given today: Will you follow the example and the righteousness of the passion of Jesus, or will you betray Him as Judas did, or will you flee at the first sign of conflict as Peter and the other disciples did, and as this young man did?

This is the moment of truth. Will you be with Him in His passion, or will you run away naked and ashamed?

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