Apr 22, 2018

“Bit Players in God’s Kingdom” 4-22-18

Mark 14:43-52
April 22, 2018

I used to watch many movies written by or starring the comedian Adam Sandler (please don’t take my watching as blanket approval). Sandler is best known for his work on Saturday Night Live and the many silly songs that he wrote and performed for the show. His sense of humor is - let us say - quirky. One of the trademarks of his films is the inclusion of small, eccentric bit parts performed by his friends. Often these small roles contribute very little to the overall plot of the movie and simply add a silly edge to otherwise normal scenes. One such example is the character of Crazy Eyes from Mr. Deeds. The character is portrayed by Steve Buschemi and maybe shows up in three minutes of the entire film. Almost all of his scenes revolve around jokes about his “crazy eyes” and his paranoia of the people around him. It is a bit part portrayed by a legend among American character actors.

I can’t help but think of roles like this when I read the end of our passage this morning. It is an odd reference found only in Mark’s Gospel. When Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, there is a young man with him. The crowd that has come to take Jesus attempts to seize the young man, but he slips out of his linen cloth and runs away naked. That’s it. Among the group fleeing away in the darkness of that terrible night, there was one poor, naked young man.

Why include this detail in the account of Jesus’s arrest? It seems to offer no discernible contribution to the narrative. The question of the authorship of the gospel could shed some light. Early church tradition states that the author of this gospel was John Mark who shows up in Acts as the younger co-worker of Barnabas and Paul. Early tradition also tells us that Mark derived his account of Jesus’s ministry directly from the preaching of Peter, though Mark himself was not an eyewitness of Jesus. Some scholars have noted that the story of the naked young man is a type of detail consistent with eyewitness experience. So Mark is clearly drawing on an eyewitness account. Some scholars have even suggested that the naked young man was an autobiographical inclusion by Mark. Early church tradition stated that Mark was not an eyewitness, but I suppose that it is possible that he was present for some of the events if not all of them and that he chose to reference himself in a very humble (and humiliating!) way.

So where does that get us as we consider the role of this “bit player?” I honestly don’t know. I am, however, comforted by the thought that the Lord knows. It is likely that this brief glimpse of the young man was meaningful to at least some people in the original audience. The reference might be lost on us but God had his purposes in the inclusion, and those purposes have surely been fulfilled (even if we don’t know when or for whom). Come to think of it, this is not at all inconsistent with the way the Holy Spirit has chosen to work in his inspiration of the text. Think of a few examples with me. What about the judge Shamgar? He shows up in one verse of the book of Judges and all we know is that he killed a bunch of Philistines with an ox goad. Or how about Jabez in 1 Chronicles? We know that he was honorable, that his mother gave birth to him in pain, and that he once prayed a prayer that God answered. Contrary to some popular Christian literature, we can learn very little about or from Jabez. These guys are bit players in the Bible, and there are many others who could be mentioned. God has his purposes in the flow of human life, and we don’t always know what those purposes are and who will do what as they are accomplished. But we trust that God knew and knows what he is doing.

There are two pieces of context in my mind as I consider this text. First, today is Youth Sunday. Today we receive the ministry of our young folks in a special way. We are also reminded to pray for them and pray they continue to follow Jesus as they discern the way in which they are to serve him in the world. What roles will they play in the world and for the sake of the kingdom? I don’t know, and they don’t know. Some will live quiet lives. Some may be well known among a certain community. Some may acquire wealth in their journey. Some may not. All will face suffering. Some suffering will be great and some small. The point is this - God knows and God cares. God loves each one of them enough to send Jesus to die for them. God has a plan and purposes for their lives. That part might be a “bit part” in the eyes of the world, but there are no bit parts when it comes to God’s love and concern for his people.

The second piece of context is that this is my last “official” Sunday with you as Associate Pastor. I and my family have perceived the Lord’s call on our lives to go to Michigan and serve the purposes of his kingdom there. But I don’t know what the future holds. What kinds of glories will we experience? What kinds of suffering? What work will surprise me along the way? How many people will know my name in fifty years? Might it be God’s plan that my greatest ministry to the world might even come at the expense of my own humiliation? After all, there is this one naked young man fleeing away into the night. We only catch a glimpse of him as he runs. But God knows what is going on. And God knows and cares for my life, and Shana’s life, and the kids’ lives, and your lives. He knows. He cares. He loves you. And he will keep us all the days of our lives - rather we are bit players or not.


Pastor Scott Cress
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906