In a previous post about the story of the rich young man (Mark 10:17-21) I suggested that there’s no reason to think that the man did not indeed go away intending to do as Jesus commanded, by selling all his possessions and following him. In the comments someone suggested that there is a tradition that suggests Barnabas may be the rich young man in question here. I did some digging and couldn’t find much of anything on that point, but I did find another possibility that actually has support from the text of Mark itself.
Could it not be that the young man in question is simply Mark himself? I think we may catch a hint of this conclusion in Mark 14:51-52 where the narrative tells us that “A certain young man was following [Jesus], wearing nothing but a linen cloth.” This unidentified young man is generally thought — at least in all the commentaries I’ve come across — to be Mark.
Now, it could be that Mark just wanted to throw in some superfluous information by describing the nature of the young man’s (lack of) clothing, but given the intentionality that characterizes the narrative patterns of Mark I’m inclined to doubt it. Why tell us that the young man was dressed only in a sheet that he had wrapped around himself? Why make a point of the fact that he was following Jesus? Could it be that the complete lack of possessions, even clothing, his young age, and his description as actively following Jesus are meant to point us back to the story of the rich young man? Seems like a pretty valid connection to me. I don’t think there’s anyone else mentioned in the gospel of Mark who might qualify for this. Let us follow this line of thought. . .
Symbolically, this event is the culmination of the story of the rich young man. Unlike the others who desert Jesus and flee immediately (vs. 50), he continues to follow, to the point of being seized, at which point he makes his escape by leaving the very last of his possessions behind. His journey of discipleship is complete, he has been utterly dispossessed by following Jesus, right down to his clothing. And finally he has been driven into exile by the powers that set themselves against the mission of Christ.
The rich young man has been dispossessed of everything in following the Messiah, and is left scattered, naked in the dark. The only thing that can make this come out right is a hope beyond hope, a veritable new creation. Discipleship brings the young man to a null point, a point that can only be rendered meaningful by a radical disruption of the status quo. Only resurrection can make dispossessive discipleship of this sort anything more than a pathetic joke.