What Is It You Want Me To Do For You?

Helen Keller was once asked, “Isn’t it terrible to be blind?” To which she responded, “Better to be blind and see with your heart than to have two good eyes and see nothing.”

And that quote, my friends, is a good summary of our gospel lesson today from Mark. Blindness and sight are themes Mark has developed quite a bit in his Gospel, and clearly, Jesus’ own disciples come up short on this one. They have two good eyes yet see nothing – or very little. They are, in many ways, spiritually blind, perceiving precious little of what Jesus is up to while projecting how this man might make them famous.

Blind Bartimaeus, on the other hand, is blind yet he sees with his heart. He knows through faith that Jesus exists for people like him, forgotten and marginalized. He’s a healer, a bringer of hope – not a rabble rouser.

Today we ponder how we might be spiritually blind, just as we ask God for the gift of sight and a faith that jumps up and does something!

Now, the disciples, though largely blind, had every reason to see more clearly than others. They were with Jesus all the time, observing all his public words and deeds. And yet, as Mark makes very clear, usually they just didn’t get it, even when Jesus pulled them aside and explained it to them. True, Peter was not completely blind; he could see that Jesus was the Messiah. But he–along with the other eleven–just didn’t have a clue what kind of Messiah! For instance, Jesus had made it clear three different times to the disciples that his path of servanthood would lead to persecution, suffering and “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

But this is not what his disciples were expecting. The Messiah was supposed to be served, not serve; to be the conqueror, not the conquered; to restore Israel to greatness and might. They didn’t know what to do with these revelations of Jesus. They just couldn’t see it. So, they tried to give Jesus pep talks with a better outcome. They debated among one another who was the greatest. And in today’slesson, James and John eagerly approach Jesus, requesting that he will do as they ask. Jesus says, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Grant it that each of us may sit next to you in your glory, one at your right, one at your left.”

Jesus said, “You don’t know what you are asking. You don’t understand the path that I’m on, or the one you will soon be on. And the truth is, it’s not about glory and recognition and being served. It’s about serving. Great rulers in this world lord it over their people, but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”

In other words, in a world where its kingdoms are based on power, conquest, and tribal agendas, Jesus’ kingdom is based on God’s vision for humanity, on servanthood and love, bridge-building, healing and the common good.

So, you see, Jesus’ path had to be very different than a political or militaristic one. So, too, for his followers. And while the disciples were consistently thinking about their status, their position, their power, Jesus was trying to tell them, that’s not what we’re doing. We’re about being servants. At this point, though, the disciples were blind to this. One day they their eyes would be opened, though.

I’m sympathetic with the disciples, though. They were thinking, “What’s in it for me?” That’s normal enough, but blind to God’s vision of “What’s in it for everyone?” and creating a community of people who ask not what’s in it for me but how are we meeting the needs of our neighbor? A Christian faith community always exists not for the sake of itself but for the sake of the world, for the neighbor, for God’s mission. The little church called the disciples were often blind to this.

So, too, are many churches. All kinds of churches ask the questions like, “what should we do now?” “what kind of plans should we make for the future?” And I can’t tell you how many churches out there spend a good deal of time trying to answer those questions with surveys and focus groups asking their own members what they should be doing. Asking members of the club.

But if we exist for the sake of the world, we’d better be asking our neighbors, right? Rarely do faith communities bother to ask their neighbors what they want and need and hope for – the ones we’re called to serve, the ones Christ is trying to reach. As though we’re blind to them.

Meanwhile, a man named Bartimaeus was one of those people who was usually not seen, but who happened to be pretty good at seeing. One day,

Bartimaeus seeks out Jesus in a crowd with 20/20 vision, believing Jesus will heal him. He could see, as Helen Keller once said, “with his heart.” He calls out to Jesus, first identifying him as “Son of David.” This is another term indicating Jesus’ royal lineage. Bart knows Jesus is the Messiah and, therefore, asks Jesus to “have mercy on him” – a plea for both healing and kindness.

Now, blind people in this culture are supposed be seen and not heard. Just quietly mumble in your appointed begging spot so that charitable people can throw you a few coins. You see, Bart is unclean and he is a nobody. Important religious people didn’t normally pay attention to unclean nobodies. In other words, Bart shouldn’t be addressing Jesus like this. But here he is, calling out to Jesus.

So, people in the crowd reprimand Bart for his impertinence. But this only spurs Bart to shout out more loudly. You gotta like this guy! He could see who Jesus was, and he could see what faith was: stepping up and taking risks. Not because he was so bold and remarkable, but because trusted the one he was addressing. His confidence was in Jesus, not himself.

And Jesus heard him. Jesus saw him. He called the man over. It says Bart threw off his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus then asked him the same question that he asked James and John: “What do you want me to do for you?” Recall, James and John asked Jesus for places of honor and power. Their confidence was in themselves and they wanted status, influence and power to show for it.

Well, Bartimaeus’ confidence was in the Son of David, so Bart asked for his sight to be restored. Immediately it was, and Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well.” And with his restored vision, Bartimaeus followed Jesus. Would he understand more clearly than the disciples what road Jesus was on? Bartimaeus would likely understand that this is what Jesus did, this was Jesus’ mission: to love the unlove-able people; to heal them and give them life. It was not to seek power and influence. It was to be a servant.

Jesus asks this of you, too. What do you want me to do for you?

What do you say? Given who Jesus is and what Jesus is up to in this world, what do you say? Knowing that Christ is giving of himself, what does this mean of what we ask? Jesus’ disciples watched Jesus heal and restore people over and again, yet they still had “who is the greatest among us?” on their minds. What perks would be in it for them?

So, we’ve seen how some people who have good eyesight and information are blind, while others who are physically blind and lack information, see nonetheless.

But in a sense, to be able to see doesn’t matter unless you act on your faith. Bartimaeus called out boldly to Jesus and violated social norms in the process, because his faith led him to act! And did you notice what Bart did when Jesus called him over? It says Bart leaped up and left his cloak to go see Jesus. Now for a blind beggar, his cloak was possibly his most trusted possession. He left it and followed Jesus. He was all in.

This is a wonderful metaphor for us as well. Let’s put this all together: faith calls us to jump up and throw off the cloaks of a blind past and follow Jesus into new opportunities.

How are we blind? I think of the many ways people of faith think they see but are blind.

  • Blind to the “servant” Jesus of the Bible, choosing instead to see a fictional Jesus who is the muscle for their group to judge and exclude others who aren’t worthy
  • Blind to the many ways we use our religion to achieve our own ends, not follow Jesus’ to his ends
  • Blind to our blessings, because we obsess with what’s missing
  • Blind to environmental ruin in the making when we’re supposed to be stewards
  • Blind to the God who does a new thing, clinging instead to the old thing
  • Blind to a racism that white privilege will not see
  • Blind to our own addictions

Just as Bart could not overcome his blindness himself, but needed a miracle, so too can God – and only God – heal our spiritual blindness. And the good news is, that just as God was patient with his disciples, so, too, is God patient with us. We may lack vision, but God still works with us to help us drop the cloaks of a blind past.

But overcoming blindness and seeing what God wants us to see must lead to action! Now that you can see just a little bit more, what is God calling you to do? How is God calling you – and us! – to open our eyes, jump up and follow Jesus? Amen.

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Pastor John is Mt. Carmel’s Senior Pastor.

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