Mark 10: 46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
“What do you want?” Jesus asks us.
Or, “What do you want?” (pause)
Are you, like me, so well-versed in Mennonite humility that you think, “Me? Jesus wants to know what I want? Isn’t following Jesus all about knowing and doing what he wants? Apart from that, I thought we weren’t supposed to want anything.”
Oh, but we do. Henry Nouwen said that we spend our lives conjugating three verbs, to do, to have, and to want. And I don’t mean that entirely as an indictment, or a criticism. When our stomachs tell us to get up and go get something from the refrigerator, or our throats tell us, “I want something cold from the tap,” that’s usually for a good reason. Whenever we want company, love and friendship, God made us that way. He wants it for us, too. Depending on what we want from that friend.
And there’s the rub: “depending on what we want.” For we know, by experience, not to trust each and every desire that runs through our heads. Addicts and alcoholics go to Twelve Step meetings to deal with their most self-destructive and self-defeating wants, lest those wants should control them. And that’s why we might be hesitant to tell Jesus what we want, why we might find it hard to think that Jesus would even want to know what we want, because once we say it, Would lightning strike us? Or at least would a buzzer go off and a voice say from heaven, “Wrong answer.”
Besides, if this is Jesus we’re talking, then wouldn’t he know the answer to that question already? In which case, doesn’t that make “What do you want me to do for you?” a stupid question?
After all, for blind Bartimaeus to find Jesus, someone probably had to help him, at least, to lead him by the hand. So, it would not have been hard to see that the man was blind. And he had just heard Bartimaeus calling out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” So he wants mercy, we know that. Maybe, “What do you want me to do for you?” means, “What form would ‘mercy’ take for you right now?”
“What do you want me to do for you?” is also a familiar question. If we were here last Sunday, we might remember that Jesus asked that very same question in the story that is recorded just before this one in Mark’s Gospel, the passage we looked at last week, about James and John. They set Jesus up by saying, “Master, we would like you to give us what we ask.” So, he asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said, “Jesus, when you come into your glory, like next Tuesday, we want the first thrones at your right hand and your left.”
So now, two times in one chapter of Mark’s Gospel, we hear Jesus ask the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” Once to James and John, and again to Bartimaeus. Which tells me that this must be a very important question. Even, a question that Jesus puts to every disciple and follower of his, and one that all disciples of Jesus must hear and answer for themselves. If we’re afraid of answering that question, because we might give the wrong answer and get the gong, or the buzzer, “Wrong answer! Next!” then we have more fear than faith. Still, if we have ever heard “No” or “Not yet,” to any of our prayers, we’re actually in very good company, even that of James and John. They didn’t get what they wanted either when they replied, “We want the thrones at your right hand and your left.”
But they lived to tell the tale. Lightning did not strike them dead. Jesus did not ridicule them, nor tongue-lash them. He did not rip their insignia of rank from their shoulders and break their swords over his knee while the drums rolled, like in some old Cavalry and Indians movie. If anything, he was tender and considerate in his response. “Its not mine to give you those thrones at my right hand and my left,” he said. “But you shall indeed drink the cup that I shall drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am to undergo.”
In effect he’s saying, “You two terrible twins, my ‘Sons of Thunder,’ you may be off-target, but you’re still in the ball-park. That was a swing and a miss, but not a strike-out; that may have been a technical foul, but you’re still in the game. You are mistaken in the way you think about what those thrones mean and how you come by them. But you are right in thinking that I am preparing you for crowns and thrones, and that, by throwing in your lot with me, your destiny shall be more glorious than anything that eye can see or ear can hear or mind can imagine. If anything, you have not asked for too much; you have asked for too little. You would settle for the honor of men, when I would give you the glories of heaven. But I can work with that; keep working with me. This is how we make progress.”
James and John remind me of the turtle, who only makes progress when he sticks his head out of his shell. If he’s trying to go toward food or water, that’s also the only way he’s going to know if he’s headed in the right direction, or not. Those terrible twins, James and John, stuck their necks out all right, only to learn how wrong-headed they were. But how could they have learned what it was that Jesus wanted to give them, until they had named what it was that they wanted Jesus to give them?
Later that same week, or even that same day, these same two, James and John, were standing there, near Jesus and the blind man, when Jesus asked the blind beggar the same question: “What do you want me to do for you?” But unlike them, they saw Bartimaeus get what he asked for. Same question, different response. Don’t you think they might have been curious about that, if not maybe even angry?
But which request would you think is going to get the most favorable hearing from Jesus? That of the brothers who want to dominate others, and to keep their domination a family enterprise? Or that of someone who wants to enjoy the God-given gifts of sunlight and moonlight, to marvel at the shimmering leaves of the trees on a breezy summer day, or the flowers of springtime, and the faces of people he loves and who love him? A man who wants to go from begging to working, from always being supported by others, to supporting others, to contributing to the community and to the common good?
Why did Bartimaeus get what he wanted, but not James nor John? The simplest answer is that Bartimaeus asked Jesus to do for him precisely what Jesus wanted to do, and that he came to do, “to give sight to the blind….and bring good news for the poor,” as the prophets said. Who was more poor than a blind beggar? And who was more blind than Bartimaeus? (Unless you want to count those twin brothers who were blinded by personal ambition). Bartimaeus got from Jesus what he wanted, because their wills and wants were one and the same. But again, who would have known that until Bartimaeus found the courage and took the responsibility to name his wants before Jesus?
That’s what we must also do if we’re to follow Jesus, even more, if we are to be his friends. Later that same week, on the night before his arrest, Jesus would tell James and John and the other ten disciples, “I do not call you servants; I call you ‘friends.’” Friendship, more than just follower-ship, requires honesty as well as a commitment to stick together as friends. So when Jesus asks us, “What do you want?” that’s not a pop quiz just to see if we’re ready with the right answer or not. Its the sincere request of a friend who wants us to disclose ourselves, honestly and transparently, to him. Yes, technically, he knows what it is that we want. But do we? Or do we know, but think, or hope, that we’re hiding it from him? As though, maybe what I really, really want is not spiritual enough or holy enough?
I can’t be the judge of that. But if we trust God, then we can name the fears that drive us, and the desires that draw us, and our needs and wants, honest to God, knowing that, even when he cannot say Yes right then and there, he’ll work with us to give us what we need most. Even, that he’ll work with us so that, finally, our wills and wants, and his wills and wants, become one and the same. Its the least that true friends can do for each other.
For Jesus never asks of us anything that he hasn’t already done for us. He has already done us the honor of telling us what he wants of us, such as when he told his first disciples, “Come, Follow Me.” Or, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Or when he asked his disciples, in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Can’t you stay up to pray with me for one hour?”
“What do you want me to do for you?” then is not a stupid question. Coming from the mouth of a friend, Jesus, it is the very basis of this intimate relationship of friends that we call Prayer. Prayer is a two-way street. It starts when Jesus draws near to us, like he did to Bartimaeus. For as someone else once said, “Whenever we think Jesus, or say Jesus, there is Jesus. Not because we conjured him up, but because he has drawn near to us, like he did to Bartimaeus. Then, like Bartimaeus, we turn to him with hope, and cry out for mercy. And then comes the question, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Then is the time to be honest, as one friend to another. But if nothing comes to mind, we can do much worse than saying, with Bartimaeus, “I want to see.” I want to see what you have in mind for me, Lord. I want to see why I’m going through what all I’m going through. I want to see what you’re going to make of the mess and the muddle of my life, my feelings and my struggles, and how you’re going to turn this breakdown in my life into a breakthrough; how you’re going to make something beautiful out of all the losses that come with time, with aging, with my human limits, my temptations and my imperfections. Just as I also want to see what you’re going to do with these gifts and talents and passions and opportunities that you’ve given me. I want to see at least the next step of where you’re leading, and how you’re going to provide.
Whatever our response, whatever our request, if its honest and open-hearted, then I think I can speak for the Master, as one who has laid his own requests before Jesus, and has heard a few “No’s” and “Not yet’s” and say on his behalf, “I am honored that you asked me; If anything, my friend, you may have asked for too little, and not too much. For ‘eye cannot see, ear cannot hear, and the mind of mortals cannot yet grasp’ just what all I want for you.”
And if it is seeing, and sight that we want, of that next step, or the next gift from God to sustain us, I think I can hear that familiar, friendly voice, which spoke to that blind beggar along the road, saying, “I am honored that you asked, my friend, for vision is precisely what I wish to give you; vision and insight into my love for you, a vision and insight into my plans for you, to prosper and enrich you, to give you a future and great hope; to honor you by putting you in the service of my honor, and to resolve and redeem all your struggles and to turn your trials into testimonies. It may take some time, my friend. Please be patient. But like Bartimaeus, cast off the cloak of your fear and paralysis and follow me; and day by day, bit by bit, more and more, you shall indeed see, until the day when you shall know as you are known. And loved. Follow me, be honest with me like a friend, and you shall marvel at what you see.”