A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind. - Mark 14:51-52Jesus has been arrested by the crowd sent out by the chief priests and all of his disciples have fled. And now we see a young man, lightly clad, following Jesus, likely as they led him from the garden and back into Jerusalem. He is seized by the crowd, sucks his garment, and runs away naked. As humorous as this account is, in the midst of the seriousness of the rest of the account, what possible value does it offer?
I wish I could remember where I heard the following possible explanation, but it has been long enough ago now that I have lost any inkling of where I heard it, and can only repeat it in general terms.
Jesus has gone into Jerusalem and celebrated the Passover with his disciples in the upper room of someone's home. The gospels don't tell us whose house this was, but it is known that in Acts the early church would use the home of a woman named Mary, the mother of John, also called Mark (Acts 12:12). It is not unlikely that this was also the home that was used in the Passover meal recorded in the Gospels.
If indeed they are the same home then it is likely that Mark would have been celebrating the Passover downstairs with his family at the same time that Jesus is upstairs with his disciples. During the meal upstairs Jesus identified his betrayer, who then left to go inform the priests as to Jesus whereabouts. And then, after the meal, Jesus leaves with his disciples, minus Judas, for a quiet place outside of town.
Eventually Judas returns with the crowd to arrest Jesus, finds him gone from the home and then heads out to what was probably a common place for Jesus to visit while in Jerusalem. But Judas' visit to the house awakens the young Mark, who then hurriedly wraps up in a sheet and runs to the garden to warn Jesus, but arrives too late.
Mark is there to see the arrest and starts to follow to see what will happen when he is grabbed and flees, streaking for home. And then Jesus is taken to the home of the High Priest to begin a series of trials leading up to his crucifixion.
So why is this passage included here? I believe it is Mark telling us, I was there. I saw his arrest and can verify first hand that part of the story. Rather than being a humorous anecdote injected into the account of Jesus arrest and trials, I believe this is a stamp of authenticity from a first person witness of the event. He is not just telling us what he heard from Peter or others, but, at least for this event, what he had seen.