“Neaniskos” is not the name of a saintly somebody you should get to know. Nope, that is the Greek word for “young man” that St. Mark used when describing a minor incident that occurred during Our Lord’s arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.
And they all deserted him and fled. And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.
Scholars, of course, have debated who this might be. It is one of those funny little details that St. Mark’s gospel is peppered with, and seems so particular and precise that some have conjectured that it is a young Mark himself. Who else would have been paying enough attention at that moment to notice? And yet, there is more here than even just a minor intriguing minutiae that adds color and depth to the scene we know so well. St. Mark will use that word one more time in his Gospel:
And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back; for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.
Everything about the passage indicates that this is, of course, an angel: right side, white robe, the women’s amazement, the angel’s “be not afraid” and communication of direction from God … and yet Mark uses again that term “neaniskos”, “young man”. Why?
Why? Because that young man stands in for each one of us, and we will not be standing next to Christ’s empty, triumphant, tomb, and we will not be clothed in His resurrection and glory, if we have not first acknowledged that we have previously fled in fear and disgrace from His agony and passion. It is so easy to consider the paschal mystery – Christ’s freely chosen passion and death, and freely offered resurrection – as something far from us. So easy to consider it something we simply recall on occasion, a story that moves us for a week or two and then we get on with our lives!
But, Christ’s death and resurrection go together, and they are received together, or not at all. If our lives are not marked and changed by His cross, they will not be marked and transformed by His resurrection. If we do not surrender to Him our sins, He has no way to offer us salvation. If we are not bold enough to come to Him with hands empty, hearts broken, and the human nature He gave us wretched and shamed and divested of everything, He cannot redeem it, and us.
But everything changes when we give Jesus our brokenness. That young man fled. He left everything behind and didn’t follow Jesus. We have abandoned Christ too. That has to be our humble claim: “I am a sinner.” “I have chosen death, not life; myself, not Christ; my truth, rather than His truth; my comfort, not His cross.” I have nothing left, not even the appearance of grace and sufficiency.
And at that moment, when we have fallen so low, but have come back with nothing to give Our Lord. Then He can clothe us again in His life, and His love, and His glory. And we can find hope, and courage, and strength, and wonder in seeing His resurrection in our used-to-be-broken humanity!
Fear not, you will not be put to shame! Leave all of yourself at the feet of Christ! Trust that He can carry you through sin and death and darkness and fear, and bring you into His resurrection. There is no greater gift than our sins that we can give God, because for nothing less than winning us back from sin did He endure His cross, and offer us His resurrection.
He is Risen. He wants nothing less for us. Let us receive that greatest of gifts!
Fr. Dominic Rankin is a sinner, and a priest. It is a hard gift to receive when I know myself so unworthy of it. And yet aren’t all God’s gifts to us more than we could ever hope or imagine? Let us boldly take up His gift, and put down our sins, and simply trust that He can carry us through that tomb!