43 Just as Jesus was speaking, Judas appeared. He was one of the 12 disciples. A crowd was with him. They were carrying swords and clubs. The chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders had sent them. 44 Judas, who was going to hand Jesus over, had arranged a signal with them. “The one I kiss is the man,” he said. “Arrest him and have the guards lead him away.” 45 So Judas went to Jesus at once. Judas said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed Jesus. 46 The men grabbed Jesus and arrested him. 47 Then one of those standing nearby pulled his sword out. He struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 “Am I leading a band of armed men against you?” asked Jesus. “Do you have to come out with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Every day I was with you. I taught in the temple courtyard, and you didn’t arrest me. But the Scriptures must come true.” 50 Then everyone left him and ran away. 51 A young man was following Jesus. The man was wearing nothing but a piece of linen cloth. When the crowd grabbed him, 52 he ran away naked. He left his clothing behind.
“Then everyone deserted him and fled” (verse 50)
This is where it began crashing down. Jesus has prayed through the night, wrestling with where he knows he has to go. Now the betrayer Judas appears with a mob. One of Jesus’ companions, in a last ditch effort to protect Jesus, lashes out and injures one of the capturers. Other versions of this story (Luke 22, Matthew 26, John 18) provide more details – Mark’s description is the shortest. Concise, fast paced – the lack of information feels frustrating. It seems to add to the injustice of the passage.
“Then everyone deserted him and fled”
The raw, barren, toxicity of the scene becomes vivid in my mind. We can sense the two sides of this drama: on the one side the mixture of fear, shame, evil and darkness swirls from Judas’ posse to overcome Jesus’ friends. The disciples are shocked into fright and flight. On the other side is Jesus standing grounded against his attackers. Injury is added to insult as a bloody scuffle breaks out. You can imagine Jesus almost saying to armed companion: ‘don’t make this any worse than already it is guys’. And then they bolt. Jesus is alone but for the hateful gaze of a thuggish mob lead by his former friend.
I’d like to think if I was a disciple there, I would’ve have stayed. I would’ve been brave and held ground. But, that’s clearly not true (if you need surther proof, consider the disciple Peter’s story before and after this passage). ‘I won’t abandon you Jesus!’ But we all do, and I feel the dull burn in my heart that reminds me I am a sinner. In my natural state I am a betrayer. In this moment, notice Jesus’ response: he doesn’t back down. Jesus doesn’t run away – he doesn’t even struggle! Jesus stands up to our sin, faces down the accuser and will not run. What a profound picture of Jesus’ covering of our evil and the making a way for us to be saved!
Jesus my friend. Thank you for not abandoning me. Thank you for facing down my sin. For going to that place on the cross where all my betrayal is washed away and forgotten. Thank you for making a way for us to return to you. I return to you. Amen.
Written by Sam Stewart