Prayer & Fasting

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March 9, 2017

by Dr. Lani Wilson

Good day, prayer and fasting folk! It’s a marvelous thing to be able to pray, isn’t it? When it seems like the world is disintegrating around us, there is rock-bottom prayer. Fasting is the model in extremis of our petitions to an open God.

The word for our consideration this time is hold. Of course, there are many variants of this noun and verb, but in its origins lay an interesting note.

Based on the Gothic sense (also present as a secondary sense In Old English), the verb is presumed originally in Germanic to have meant “to keep, tend, watch over” (as cattle), later “to have.” Ancestral sense is preserved in behold.
Online Etymology Dictionary

Old English hol (noun), holian (verb), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch hol (noun) ‘cave,’ (adjective) ‘hollow,’ and German hohl ‘hollow,’ from an Indo-European root meaning ‘cover, conceal.’
Online Apple Dictionary

Our first thought of the word is usually as a verb, to grasp onto something. It has many uses as a noun; for example, as a way of grabbing onto something or having power over someone. Hold is less frequently used as a noun meaning “a large space in the lower part of a ship or aircraft in which cargo is stowed” (Ibid) and its derivation comes from the word “hole.”

late 16th century: from obsolete holl, from Old English hol (see hole). The addition of -d was due to association with hold1.

Jesus used the word often to encourage His followers to secure their faith, what they learned, what they witnessed.

But hold on to what you have until I come.
Revelation 2:25 (HCSB)

I am coming quickly. Hold onto what you have, so that no one takes your crown.
Revelation 3:11 (HCSB)

However, there is one verse that is puzzling: Mark 14:51-52.

Now a certain young man, having a linen cloth wrapped around his naked body, was following Him. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth behind and ran away naked.
Mark 14:51-52 (HCSB)

Biblical scholars, of course, have several interpretations of this event depending on who the intended audience was. In all of these interpretations, it is assumed that the cloak was the most important possession in antiquity. It was often the most expensive personal possession a family could own.

The cloak was often the most expensive household item a person might own, and many households could afford only one cloak, and therefore only one blanket under which all needed to sleep.'10

10See Exod 22:26-27. Gildas Hamel discusses several interesting rabbinic cases pertaining to cloaks: he refers to a legal discussion in which a man has to borrow a cloak from a neighbor, not owning one himself, in order to travel to visit his sick father, but when his father dies in the meantime, he rends the cloak in mourning (t. B. Me^i'a 8.28; b- Mo'edQaf. 26b) (Poverty and Charity in Roman Palestine, First Three Centuries C.E. [Near Eastern Studies 23; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990] 71-72). Hamel also describes a recommendation that students of the rabbinic tradition own two cloaks, one for everyday use and one for the Sabbath; the students cry out in protest because of the difficulty of owning two cloaks because of the prohibitive expense (y. Pe'ah 8.7.21b). For further examples of cloaks used in sleeping contexts, see Hilhorst, "Alternative Uses," 489-90.
Erin Vearncombe, (2013). Cloaks, Conflict, and Mark 1451-52. Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 75(4) 683-703 (687).

The σινδων worn by the young man in Mark is therefore most likely a finely woven, imported cloth, making it an object of considerable value.
Ibid., 688.

Many scholars ascribe deeper meanings to this passage where a young man escapes the hands of Roman soldiers, leaving his cloak, and running away naked. Vearncombe examines the straightforwardness of the passage and says that it is not necessary to go beyond the value of the cloak to understand its significance. The cloak was expensive, probably made of linen. Therefore, leaving it in order to escape as he is grabbed by soldiers shows how violent and traumatic the entire arrest scene was in the Garden of Gethsemane. The significance and value of a cloak in antiquity dated back several hundred years before Jesus’ birth in Greek culture.

The shedding of the cloak in the situation of violence of Jesus' arrest is quite understandable on a sociohistorical level, without resorting to symbolic interpretation. Yet this is not a dichotomous situation; the cloak can still be read as having symbolic or representative meaning in terms of the literary artistry, of the Gospel writer. Mark 14:51-52 remains highly significant in discussions of discipleship in Mark and may fruitfully be compared with 10:28 and 10:50 in particular, another instance of a shed cloak. In this case, Bartimaeus flings off his cloak, his greatest and quite possibly only possession, in order to come more easily to Jesus, in a similar fashion to Odysseus's throwing off of his cloak in response to Athena's command (Homer //. 2.183) and in a way opposite to that of the fleeing young man. Indeed, Mark seems to use the ι μ α ν ι ο ν as a kind of connecting thread that weaves together formative events in the life and ministry of Jesus: Jesus teaches about fasting using imagery relating cloaks in 2:21; Jesus' cloak is essential to the healing miracles depicted in 5:25-34 (w. 27 ,28, 30) and 6:56; the brightness of Jesus' cloak is central to the scene of his transfiguration (9:3); Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem involves the spreading of cloaks on the colt and on the ground (11:7-8); cloaks are mentioned in an apocalyptic context in 13:6; and Jesus' ill treatment at the hands of the Roman soldiers at his crucifixion is described in terms of his cloak (15:20,24).
Ibid., 703.

Then, there are the interpretations that suggest that his throwing-off of the cloak was representative of interpersonal, and sometimes violent, conflict (694). The cloak was also seen as a precursor to the burial shroud of The Christ after crucifixion (690). There are also theories that this was a heroic act: To throw off a cloak and be ready to do battle (694). The converse was also suggested; that it was a cowardly act of running away from arrest and danger (701). However, one essential element of this quixotic two-verse passage is this:

The two verses relating the young man's capture and flight are part of the arrest scene and can be interpreted as such. References to similar scenes of conflict, scenes involving the seizure of an individual, the escape of the individual, and the loss of a cloak during this escape are frequent in both literary and documentary contexts; cloaks and conflict ("the garment-disrobement-nakedness paradigm") seem to pair regularly together.
Ibid., 694.

In other words, what does the loss of an expensive, and sometimes irreplaceable, garment in a violent context leading to “nakedness” mean?

Howard M. Jackson writes, the main—or really, the only—question for interpretation has been the details of the garment: its wear and its subsequent loss: "The only question, really, concerns the details—namely, why the youth must abandon his garment and flee naked. It is actually only these two elements of the incident that make it enigmatic."
Ibid., 693.

A second essential theme is obviously the resulting nakedness after the young man escapes, leaving his most precious and practical possession behind. Nakedness in Jesus’ time culturally did not necessarily mean bare skin exposure. Under cloaks (we would consider them coats) were usually tunics. Wearing a cloak meant that one was completely dressed and there were many situations when a cloak was lost, leaving one naked.

His desertion of his σινδων leaves him in a state of nakedness, not a desirable condition. As the cloak could be worn next to the skin, it is not unusual that the young man is not described as having anything else on beneath the outer garment. "Nakedness," however, was a relative term in the ancient world, as dress in a tunic alone, being an incomplete state of dress, was considered a form of nakedness.
Ibid., 704.

It is in this context that The Christ tells us to “turn the other cheek” and it is exactly why this teaching was so revolutionary in antiquity and even today.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your coat also.
Mathew 5:38-40 (NET)

The young man, in leaving his cloak in the hands of the arresting crowd, flees "naked" —either in an inner garment, or without any clothing on at all. While this naked flight is not "mysterious" and similar situations or motifs appear in documentary and literary contexts, given the nature and wear of ancient clothing, the desertion of the garment is dramatic and embarrassing. Being naked in this sort of context was a negative social state, something to be avoided at all costs.
Vearncombe, 702.

Thus, quite literally, The Nazarene is telling us that we must become naked when we are offended and/or accused. Why? Who is seeing us “naked?” In Jesus’ example in Mathew 5, before we even get to court, we are to offer our accuser our undergarments (“tunic”) and our cloak (“coat”). This particular teaching has been interpreted in so many ways that it remains controversial. But in the context of heightened conflict, the message to His followers is clear. You must give up what you most value of your personhood, that which is visible to the world, your defenses, your patina, your external persona, even if only accused.

Referring back to the origins of hold from page 1, we remember that a second use of it as a noun came from the word “hole” and that its Indo-European root means to “cover or conceal.” Now, we have a composite source of the word: Evolved from hole, cover-conceal, becoming hold. If we take the simplest route to make sense of this, we might say that one cannot hold onto something unless it is covered or concealed in a “hollow” or “cave” and that is how we “tend to it” or “watch over it.” But that is absolutely NOT what The Christ teaches. He teaches that we must voluntarily, and with no animus, surrender our most precious possession, our protection, our cloak and - go naked.

The young man following Jesus was dressed in a fairly expensive cloak, and he left this cloak behind when grabbed at the scene of Jesus' arrest, fleeing the violent scene naked. Being naked was an extreme state of shame, not "something good, as it is in the symbolic interpretation; it is something to be avoided." Nakedness was associated in the ancient Mediterranean with poverty, death, defeat, and pollution. The abandonment of the garment for naked flight, therefore, has a deeper resonance in these verses than is often assumed.
Vearncombe, 693.

If we solely lean on the Markan verses, we are left naked as we run for our lives from arrest and danger. But, how could that be? Jesus, how could that be?

The Man Running Naked into the Dark
Mark 14: 51. 52. A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

Biblical scholars cannot identify him. He appears
only to Mark. Then he's gone, a man running

naked into the dark. Remember: the fevered air,
the clouds sliding shut, sliding open, the moon

crawling over the garden. Christ has been praying.
He's tired of being a god, but he cannot sleep.

The disciples cannot keep from sleeping.
Their sleep bewilders them; their despair is a comfort:

the circumnavigations of self-justification.
When the man appears, Judas has just given away

the one he loves. The soldiers are rounding up
Christ's followers. The kingdom has come; at last

the disciples feel the terror of choosing life
or death, no fear like the present. They swallow

their cries. The man in the linen cloth is stopped.
When he looks at Christ, the man understands

the ambush of the soul; he thought he could be
merely an onlooker. Imagine: Christ's eyes

upon him and how, in them, he knows what it is
like to be entirely himself. When Christ speaks,

the man hears his own voice and sees everything
he wanted in the other's face. Then the soldiers

catch hold of his linen cloth, and the man twists away.
We have only this meagre scrap of information,

but who doesn't know that face of fear and desire
when, before he disappears into the darkness,

the man stops and turns one last time to peer
at the one they call God, breathing in

for an aching moment the very air he breathes,
though he cannot live in the same world.

Robert Cording. (2008). The Man Running Naked into the Dark.
Christianity & Literature, 57(2), 306-307.

How many onlooker-Christians are there now? We go to church; put some money in the plate; sing along with the choir who entertains and whiz-bangs us into gospel glory. We bow our heads and hold hands and say, “Amen.” We listen and clap and take notes and ruffle Bibles and tap on our little screens and do the weekly offering of our presence – a gift to the naked Savior, who lets us live in Christian comfort. We go to brunch, go to meet, go to a movie, we go…and across the street, some starve, some ache, some die…

Sweet Jesus, forgive us for onlooking as You continue to beckon us to give up that cloak. Forgive us our Colored comfort as neighbors sidle past, knowing we’re looking out at them as onlooker-Christians. Remind us that we must turn around from our initial sprint away from You in Your garden, cloak-less, and feverishly respond as the herd of sheep we are to your Call. Help us love our naked selves again; the selves that know You are our only Cover; the selves that You require of us if we are going to belong to You. Give up our tunics. Give up our cloaks. With You, we are covered, only with You. We want to live in the same world with You.

Bringing in the Sheaves
Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves;
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves;
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Master,
Though the loss sustained our spirit often grieves;
When our weeping’s over, He will bid us welcome,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves;
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Knowles Shaw 1874 in the Sheaves

With You, Lord Jesus, with You.