October 28, 2018 – 23 Pentecost B – Proper 25
Jeremiah 31:7-9; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
“Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’”
Jericho is about 18 miles from Jerusalem and that’s where Jesus is headed. Those 18 miles are all uphill, an altitude gain of nearly 2000 feet, a long, slow climb. The healing of the blind beggar Bartimaeus closes out chapter 10 in Mark and chapter 11 begins with Jesus drawing near to Jerusalem. Jesus has told his disciples on three separate occasions that he is going to be killed in Jerusalem. The disciples, you might remember, are more concerned about potential positions of honor than they are the suffering of their teacher. They are blind to the message Jesus is bringing to the world. Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem, embracing the suffering that lies ahead. Before the long uphill walk, with the disciples too blind to see what God has been doing right in front of their eyes, they pass by the blind beggar Bartimaeus.
Bartimaeus can see who Jesus is better than they can. Bartimaeus has faith they do not have. Bartimaeus, after he recovers his sight, joins the disciples, becomes one of them, becomes a reminder of what the disciples are called to be. The disciples will gain their sight too, later on, after the crucifixion, after Jesus comes to them in their suffering and grieving. Bartimaeus has today what the disciples will get in their own good time, the eyes of faith to see that Jesus is God’s love which turns the very worst into the very best.
Right after Jesus has told the disciples again that he will be killed, James and John – the brightest and best of the disciples – ask Jesus for a favor. Jesus looks at them and says, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” We’re not sure if they are talking about positions of glory in heaven or on earth but their request was so self-serving and so contrary to the gospel message. Jesus gives them a lesson on humility. Don’t seek greatness, seek service. Don’t seek honor, seek faithfulness.
“What do you want me to do for you?”, Jesus asks. The question is a bit of a test, a powerful invitation. Here they have Jesus right in front of them, with the chance to ask for anything they might want. And they ask for positions of glory. It’s like Jesus coming here among us and us asking for the winning lottery ticket. Truly a missed opportunity.
Jesus hears Bartimaeus calling out for him. The disciples are still blind to the needs of others and the generosity of their Lord. They tell him to hush and move on. But Jesus calls Bartimaeus to him. And he approaches. Again the question comes from Jesus, the same one he gave to James and John, “What do you want me to do for you?”
One of the people off the streets I have gotten to know has asked me for a lot of help over the years but he always asks for such a small amount, seven or eight dollars. He’s an addict and all he can really focus on is the next bit of drugs he can get. I’ve told him over the years that, if he can get clean and find a place to live, St. John’s would be willing to pay his first month’s rent. But he just keeps asking for seven or eight dollars.
James and John, when Jesus asked them what he could do for them, asked for glory. Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, could have asked Jesus just for a little money. But Bartimaeus asks to receive his sight again. It’s a bigger request. It’s the deeper need. He knows his need and he has some faith that Jesus can heal him. His sight is restored and he becomes a disciple.
The gospel of Mark is set up in such a way that we will hear this question asked of James and John, and then Bartimaeus, that we might reflect on the differing ways the question is responded to, and that we might then hear the question of Jesus asked to us: “What do you want me to do for you?”
What do you want Jesus to do for you? You wouldn’t ask for the winning lottery ticket, of course. But would you dismiss Jesus by asking for less than he comes to deliver? Would you ask for Jesus to change someone in your life that you’re having difficulty with instead of asking him also to change you? Would you ask Jesus to make the conflicts in your life easier without asking him to make you an instrument of his peace? Would you ask him just to take away your pain or would you ask him for compassion for others? Would you ask for worldly comfort instead of wholeness of spirit? Would you ask for something cheap or would you ask for forgiveness and salvation?
As you ponder that question, remember that Jesus comes to offer us the very kingdom of God. Isn’t that what you desire above all else?