What Do You Want Me to Do For You?

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What is it we want Jesus to do for us?

I remember a moment when those of us in certain kinds of jobs experienced a little shift in protocol. In my first job after graduating from college, I was an administrative assistant at a new start-up health care center in Braintree, Massachusetts, an HMO in the halcyon days when we thought that model would solve would be our salvation, health-care-wise. Since we were a start-up, I worked for three different departments all at once—Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, and Mental Health. And those of us who answered the phone in this role made the shift from saying, “May I help you?” to “How may I help you?”

It’s just one little word. But it made sense. If someone was calling, they obviously needed our help in some way, so we were just cutting to the chase—not inflicting an extra level of needless questioning to people whom, we have since learned, need to convey their needs quickly. Researchers have told us in the last several years that patients need to sum up what’s wrong to their doctor in something like 18 seconds. Take longer than that, and your doctor is already several steps down a mental flowchart of diagnostic tools, and may have already made what’s called an “anchoring mistake”—a mistake in judgment that affects the rest of the diagnostic process.[i]

So saying, “How may I help you,” in a situation like that, gives the person on the other end of the phone—a person who may already be anxious about their well-being—it gives them some power. It gives them some control, at least at the outset, of what may be a situation completely out of their control.

We are, again, continuing right where we left off, last week, but also, we’re completing something, a fascinating, pivotal moment in this gospel. With this passage, we are completing a turning point. We are also watching how people behave when they feel things are completely out of their control.

Beginning in chapter 8, Jesus and his followers entered into a time of teaching and travel. After Peter spoke up and made an affirmation of faith—that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ—Jesus began teaching exactly what that means, to be Messiah. At the same time, he began leading the disciples towards Jerusalem—a fact that has been underneath a lot of the tension in these conversations, but one that is not named aloud until this passage. In both the teaching and the traveling, Jesus and his friends are walking towards the cross.

And this entire section is bookended by two stories, both of them about the same thing: the healing of men who are blind.

In chapter 8, Jesus heals a blind man. And, it doesn’t quite take the first time. When he asks, “Can you see anything?” the man says, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking” (Mark 8:23-24). It takes a second touch of Jesus’ hands for the man’s sight to be restored completely.

That’s what’s been going on for this entire long journey to Jerusalem. Jesus has been engaged in trying to cure a kind of spiritual blindness in his followers. And his instruction doesn’t quite take the first… or second… or third time.

Jesus has shown them the glory of God in the transfiguration, as God commended his followers “This is my Son, the Beloved: listen to him!”

But his disciples have been doing more talking and fighting than listening.

Jesus has told his disciples the Messiah is one who came not to be served, but to serve.

But his disciples keep jockeying for position.

Jesus has said again and again, as a part of the kingdom, his disciples have to become like little children.

But his disciples keep having disputes over who is the greatest.

At the beginning of today’s passage, with Jerusalem closer than ever, Jesus tries one more time to teach his disciples what it means to be Messiah:

"See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again." ~Mark 10:33-34

Without missing a beat, James and John, brothers, sons of Zebedee, walk up to Jesus and say, “We need to ask you something.” There is just the tiniest bit of hope in a question like that. Maybe they want to go deeper. Maybe they are ready to hear the truth. And with all the love that is in him every second, the very love of God, Jesus asks that compassionate question: “What is it you want me to do for you?”

What is it we want Jesus to do for us?

As for the disciples, they ask: “May we sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory? Can we be really, really special when we get to the good part, the part with palaces and thrones and stuff? Can we get thrones? Like, right next to your throne, which we would mean that we were the best, the most special, the most important, right after you?”

You almost have to laugh. Could they display any more vividly that they still don’t get it? Could they make it any clearer that they are stuck with old ideas of what it means to be in the inner circle of a man of power? Could they be further away from what Jesus has just said to them, and asked them?

A professor offering commentary on this passage compares it to the childhood board game, “Chutes and Ladders.”

Players roll the dice and advance around the board hoping to land on a ladder and quickly ascend toward the finish, while avoiding the chutes, which send the player sliding back down to a lower level. It is a child’s game but also a metaphor for life, and sometimes for Christian discipleship. A moment of revelation and insight is followed by a tragic slide into darkness and failure… [Here] it is a struggle for understanding, to see Jesus as he is, not as we would remake or distort him for our own purposes. Flashes of insight come, but a dark pattern of corrupting self-interest returns. Two steps forward, one step back. [ii]

What is it we want Jesus to do for us?

For John and James, Jesus patiently replies, "You do not know what you are asking.” Their request shows a disconnect from the present situation that is perhaps understandable, but nevertheless frustrating. Two steps forward, one step back. Who can help them to understand how to follow Jesus?

Enter Bartimaeus. He is blind. He is a beggar. His story is the closing bookend to the big passage, the traveling and teaching passage. And, while he cannot see Jesus, he can very much hear Jesus. And he can very much speak to Jesus. Which is to say, yell. A lot. Loudly. So loudly and insistently that his friends are hushing and shushing him and trying to get him to calm down, go away, be quiet, be docile. But he will not. He insists. He yells,

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

What is it you want Jesus to do for you?

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Maybe you’d like to say it with me, say it with Bartimaeus?

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

And Jesus stops right where he is. And with all the love that is in him every second, with all the love of God, Jesus asks that compassionate question, “What do you want me to do for you?”

And the blind, begging, insistent, yelling, throwing-off-his-cloak-and-springing-up-and-running Bartimaeus replies, “My Teacher, let me see again.”

What a contrast, this answer to Jesus’ question. No requests for power or glory. Just—heal me.

Could it be that step one in following Jesus is: we submit ourselves for healing?

What is it you would like Jesus to do for you?

Taking Bartimaeus as our mentor, we might be in urgent touch with our need—not simply our wants, our deepest need, what we would trade nearly everything for, if God would make it right, right now. We might then let nothing stand in the way of our approaching God for that purpose—we might holler, we might embarrass the people around us, we might knock with all our might on heaven’s door, because it is that important. We might spring up—spring up! And throw off anything that holds us back or slows us down in approaching God, in getting as close as we can to Jesus. And we might say, with all our hearts, with tears streaming down our grateful faces, “My teacher, help me…”

What is it you would like Jesus to do for you?

And then, when our healing has begun, we might just never look back. Never. But instead, we might bind our lives over to following him, wherever he would lead

With hearts that ache for all the gratitude that is in them, crying out “Thanks be to God!”

With voices crying to the heavens, “Amen!”

[i] Groopman: “The Doctor’s In, But Is He Listening?” National Public Radio’s Morning Edition Interview, Health Care, March 16, 2007, http://www.npr.org/2007/03/16/8946558/groopman-the-doctors-in-but-is-he-listening.

[ii] N. Clayton Croy, “Commentary on Mark 10:32-52,” Narrative Lectionary February 21, 2016, Working Preacher, www.workingpreacher.org/narrative_lectionary.aspx.