What Do You Want Me to Do?
This is the second encounter Mark records between Jesus and a blind man. Each of the Gospel writers carefully chose the miracles from Jesus’ life that best illustrated who Jesus was and what his life means for the world. There is no way in 16 chapters that Mark could tell us everything Jesus did in his lifetime, or even in his 3 years of ministry. So, when we have two stories that are similar it’s important to look closely at not just the surface encounter, but the deeper message Mark is pointing us to.
The first healing is gradual. A blind man is brought to Jesus and they beg Jesus to touch him. Jesus spits in his hand and places it on his eyes. Then, Jesus asks him if he can see anything, and he can see people, but they look like trees walking around. So, Jesus lays his hands on his eyes again, and he can see everything clearly. This is not a story about Jesus’ healing prowess. Mark follows this story with Jesus talking with the disciples and asking, “Who are people saying that I am?” John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. “What about you? Who do you say that I am?” And Peter gets it right. “You’re the Messiah.” Up until this point, they have seen and understood who Jesus was, in a sort of blurry “people look like trees walking around” way. But Peter sees it clearly in that moment. And Jesus gives strict orders that the disciples not tell anyone, for now, as they begin their final journey to Jerusalem.
On this journey, Mark tells us about 3 times that Jesus predicts his death and resurrection and tells about Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain. But, the disciples just didn’t get it. In fact, as they were coming back down the mountain, Mark tells us that Peter, James, and John, the three disciples who were with Jesus when he was transfigured, were trying to figure out what ‘rising from the dead’ might mean.
Finally, as they were climbing toward Jerusalem, just before they got to Jericho, James and John show that they still really don’t see when they ask Jesus to grant them one wish, and Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Their request reveals how much they still don’t understand who Jesus is, or what is going to happen when they reach Jerusalem, or what the kingdom Jesus came to establish even is. Their request reveals that they are still constrained in their ability to envision a different way from the culture they live in, a culture where honor and status are prized. “Grant us that when you’re there in all your glory, let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus just looks at them and replies, “You don’t know what you’re asking for!….Don’t you see?”
And then as they are leaving Jericho, just 18 miles out from Jerusalem, they are making their way on the crowded road – the closer they get, the bigger the crowds get, making pilgrimage to celebrate Passover at the Temple in Jerusalem – just outside the city gate, above the din of the crowd, Jesus hears “Son of David! Jesus! Take pity on me!” “Son of David!” is another way of saying Messiah or Christ. Someone in the crowd recognizes him. The only other person who has seen who Jesus is until this moment is Peter, one of the disciples who was with Jesus throughout his whole ministry. Who sees?
A blind man.
A blind man with faith not only to see who Jesus was but to act on that faith.
When Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, started in shouting “Son of David!” the crowd tried to hush him. The last thing anybody wanted was to be associated with a coup attempt against the Roman Empire! Shouting about a Messiah! A Jewish king to replace Tiberius, the Emperor? They weren’t just trying to get a poor beggar to hush. These were dangerous words to utter, much less shout. And Bartimaeus will not be quiet. He doesn’t care that he might be arrested by the Roman authorities. He sees who Jesus is and acts on his faith.
And, think about what it means for a beggar to irritate the crowd. He is begging from them. If he makes them mad, his daily pity pennies are likely not to drop onto his cloak. Bartimaeus will not stop. He doesn’t care that he might be biting the hand that feeds him. He sees who Jesus is and acts on his faith.
Then, when they tell him that Jesus is calling him, he jumps up and leaves his only worldly possession behind, his cloak, spread out around him so that he can hear the drop of a coin during the day, his covering to stay warm in the cold desert nights. He doesn’t care about his stuff. He sees who Jesus is and acts on his faith.
And when he encounters Jesus, face to face, Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Jesus engages this blind beggar. Nobody ever talked to him. He was the lowest of the low – Bartimaeus. Mark almost never tells us people’s names. So why does name Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus? Bar means son of. Mark points out that this blind beggar is such a nobody that he doesn’t even have a name separate from identifying him as his father. He is Bartimaeus, the bar of Timaeus.
Jesus doesn’t just drop a healing without looking at him, like everyone else has just dropped coins on his cloak as they passed by. Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus doesn’t just heal him, since he is blind. The reality is, Bartimaeus “saw” a lot better than everyone else. “Let me see again,” he requests.
When we encounter Jesus, he doesn’t just heal us without checking to see whether we WANT to see. Having sight is going to change Bartimaeus’s whole life. His whole identity was based on his blindness. He couldn’t be the blind beggar if he could see. But, he is ready. He is ready for Jesus to transform his life. “What do you want me to do for you?” “Rabbouni, my master, my teacher, let me see again.”
He wants to see. He wants the scales to come off. He wants the blinders gone. Do we? Do you?
It takes tremendous faith to want to see. “What do you want me to do for you?” “Rabbouni, my master, my teacher, let me see again.”
And Jesus says, “Off you go. Your faith has saved you.”
Your faith, that saw who I am and gave you courage to act – even against the government, even against the crowd, even against your source of income, to even leave behind all that you have – and immediately Bartimaeus saw again. And instead of going, he followed Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.
“What do you want me to do for you?” asks Jesus. Do you want to see, really see, who Jesus is? God’s message of love to the world. Not just to some, but to all. Do you really want to see that God is “for” each and every person? And, once you see, what will you do? Lots of people accept Jesus’s permission to go on with their lives, “Off you go.” Or will you choose to follow Jesus on the way to Jerusalem? To sacrifice? The way of courage to act against the establishment, against the crowd, even against your financial interests, to leave behind everything that you have stored up for yourself, even to leave behind your biases and preferences, your attitudes and ways that are based on the ways of this world and not the way of Jesus?
Jesus asks each one of us, “Are you sure you want to see?” It’s up to us to answer.