Manuel Villalobos Mendoza – « Masculinity undone »

6. What does a transgressor of masculinity do in Jesus’s movement?

We do not know who this ‘dubious’ young man is, who cowardly runs away during the shady night. However, we cannot deny that Mark underlines in his text the close relationship between this weak young and beautiful neaniskos and Jesus. Mark tells us that he ‘was following (synakolouthein) Jesus’. The compound verb synakolouthein appears twice in Mark (5.37; 14.51) and in both instances refers to actions of disciples. Hatton argues that this verb emphasizes closeness: ‘It means to accompany, to be close to, the one being followed.’[25] I stated above how this transgressor of masculinity shared the same destiny as Jesus, who died dishonored and naked on the cross. Furthermore, Mark 14.51 tells us that soldiers tried to ‘seize’ the unmanful neaniskos, using the same verb as for Jesus’s arrest ( Thus, the neaniskos shared the same shameful experience of Jesus. However, in the end, he failed Jesus in the same way as the other disciples did. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that Jesus’s movement included an unmanly young man who did not know how to take his faith and discipleship ‘like a man’. 

The close relationship between Jesus and the young man is sealed via the sindōn. This ambivalent piece of clothing connects the neaniskos with Jesus at his burial. In Mark 15.46, Jesus’s dead body is clothed with a sindōn by Joseph of Arimathia. Thus, the neaniskos’s sindōn announces Jesus’s tragic destiny. Both neaniskos and Jesus will suffer submission under the power of the manlier soldiers. Both bodies disappear from the narrative – one flees into the mystery of the night, and the other is laid down in the tomb. In the end, we are just left with the enigmatic sindōn which may reveal that God after all is not with the powerful, or ‘veri viri’, but rather sides with those non-normative bodies that are deemed less than human or not human at all in a culture shaped by toxic masculinity. 

7. Conclusion: What may be the implication of the neaniskos for us today?

In this brief passage, Mark constructs the figure of the neaniskos as a man who fails to live up to the standards of masculinity of his time through his vulnerable age, his luxurious clothes and exposable nakedness, his movement and behavior. Mark’s text thus ‘troubles’ the expectations and norms of his culture, and maybe ours, as well.

Mark presents a non-normative character of masculinity in an intimate relationship with Jesus. The author connects both characters by exposing their ‘shameful’ bodies for our (dis)pleasure. This unusual relationship between two broken and penetrable naked bodies is stressed via the soft sindōn. Thus, Mark’s Jesus challenges the toxic masculinity that separates the brave from the coward, the powerful from the submissive one, the verus vir from the effeminatus. By accepting a neaniskos in Jesus’s movement, in Mark, a new way of being ‘man’ and ‘disciple’ emerges, where service to God’s kingdom has priority over other socially constructed categories such as masculinity. In Mark’s gospel, discipleship means to leave one’s ‘normal’ life and embrace the margins as a way to enter into God’s kingdom. Can someone be more marginal or liminal than the neaniskos who has undone his masculinity in order to follow Jesus? If Jesus accepted this effeminate disciple in his community, it is time for us to remove our prejudice, homophobia, and toxic ideas of masculinity in order to celebrate Jesus’s inclusive and alternative community. In the end, it is not being a ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘masculine’, ‘feminine’, ‘straight’, or ‘gay’ that counts in discipleship. Rather, it is the willingness and generosity ‘to leave everything behind’ in order to announce to all Jesus’s love and compassion.

[25] Stephen B. Hatton, ‘Mark’s Naked Disciple: The Semiotic and Comedy of Following’, Neotestamentica, 35.1/2 (2001), 37.


Manuel Villalobos Mendoza is an Affiliated Assistant Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Chicago Theological Seminary. He is the author of Abject Bodies in the Gospel of Mark (2012); When Men Were Not Men: Masculinity and Otherness in the Pastoral Epistles (2014), and Masculinidad y Otredad en Crisis en las Epístolas Pastorales (2019).

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