What do you want me to do for you?
February 26, 2024

What do you want me to do for you?


Mark 10:32-52

In today’s scripture we continue down the road with Jesus. Literally. We learn that Jesus and his companions are almost at Jerusalem. Mark's first listeners will have known that means that tension is building. Jesus is coming close the center of power. There’s a kind of climax in todays pair of stories that happens to amplify that. 

We have another set of parallels that mirror and reflect on each other and magnify Jesus’ teaching about who he is and what his ministry is building toward. We haven’t heard them all in worship, but Jesus has shared some version of a prediction of his death with his disciples three times. All along, he’s been telling them: this work we’re doing together, the work that I’m leading (and we hear how he’s out in front), this Way will lead to confrontation with the authorities and it will almost certainly lead to my humiliation and death - though death will not be the end. 

In this version Jesus is the most pointed and specific in how that will play out. Jerusalem is where it will all end.

This is also the third time when some of Jesus disciples have made a pointed power grab. Here, James and John say very directly to Jesus, “Teacher we want you to do whatever we ask.” Brazen, much??  I told the Adult Study class last week how much this reminds me of my kid asking me, “Can we have a ‘yes’ day today?” I can just imagine Jesus’s raised eyebrows and surprised laugh. Like, excuse me? “What do you want me to do for you?”

They ask to sit at his right and left when he ‘enters his glory.’ The thing is, the act of asking for positions of power and status would be normal in any business or political situation. Negotiating with those in leadership for the roles that you want. We could imagine politicians campaigning for place in cabinet, or a place on the ballot as VP (may even be happening right now in the US). It was certainly normal in Roman society, who ruled and occupied at the time. Roman culture was very patronage based and hierarchical. 

It’s not uncommon in any group to want to have a little more. A little proximity to power. Everyone wants to sit next to the birthday kid, be at the head table. James and John are brothers and they’re egging each other on - figuring out how the Zebedee brothers can get in with the Reign of Jesus…which they’re still imagining will be a political and literal Kingdom.

Jesus must have been so frustrated! To their political power mongering, Jesus offers a ritual an liturgical metaphor: Can you drink this cup? Can you receive this baptism? They seem completely blind to what Jesus has all along been teaching. Even then baptism and a cup had similar metaphors to a ritual entry into a particular Way - commitment and follow through. And in this case, committing to the Way of servanthood, love, healing, justice, inclusion would mean suffering at the hands of power. 

In his book Binding the Strong Man Ched Meyers talks about this passage - particularly Jesus response that it’s not for him to decide who’s on his right and left but for those for whom it’s been prepared. Meyers says, “Leadership belongs only to those who learn and follow the way of nonviolence - who are “prepared” not to dominate but to serve and to suffer at Jesus side.” Later in Mark we’ll hear of who is actually at Jesus' side. In Mark 15:26, from the crucifixion narrative we read, “The notice of the formal charge against him was written, “The King of the Jews.” They crucified two outlaws with him, one on his right and one on his left.”

Jesus’ ministry is political - because it’s impossible to confront and flip the narrative of power the way he does without running up against politics. But even though his disciples seem blind to it, he wants them to know: his role in the political system of oppression is to be a ransom - price paid to free slaves or captives. His life with them - and his death - proclaim the way of liberation from empire and hierarchy and domination. Glory looks like crucifixion with thieves and rebels.

But the disciples just Do. Not. See.  They hadn’t been listening to the previous interaction between Jesus and the man with all the possessions. They hadn’t been listening to him tell them to be like little children to enter God’s reign, which came immediate before that. They hadn’t been listening and watching all the times Jesus explained that he’s not a political operative in the way they seem to expect.

But take a step forward and we run into Bartimaeus.  Blind Bartimaeus. Somehow this ostensibly blind man, a beggar, already sees something in Jesus. Sees and acts in ways that disciples have not. “Son of David,” he calls out. “Have mercy.” His call - though it may be just a call out to a healer he’s heard about - acknowledges Jesus’ lineage. Connects him to prophetic tradition. He doesn’t say, “Do whatever I ask.” He simply asks to be acknowledged.

And Jesus asks him exactly the same question he had asked James and John. But the whole tone of this interaction is so different! Bartimaeus is not after power or glory. And Jesus is empathetic, compassionate. “What do you want me to do for you?” He doesn’t assume what the man wants. He takes him in as a whole person and engages with curiosity. 

I want to see. In one sense he already does see. He sees Jesus as a leader and a healer. He wants to see and learn more. He also wants physical sight. He wants that sense to be restored. Jesus obliges. He restores Bartimaeus’ sight. In return Bartimeus immediately joins the entourage and begins to follow Jesus on the Way. He already has so little - he has flung aside even his cloak - his only possession - in his hurry to approach. Another contrast with the wealthy man who had so much but could give up nothing, with the disciples who long for glory. 

There’s a praise and worship song that goes, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart. I want to see you. I want to see you.” So far so good. We’re in line with the way Bartimaeus sees Jesus. And truly with his eyes and his heart. Ready to follow the Way. Then the song goes on, “To see you high and lifted up, shining in the light of your glory.” Oof. There’s that glory again. 

As praise songs go, I actually like that one pretty well. I don’t think there’s harm - and it can be really meaningful to praise. To sing, “Holy, holy, holy…I want to see you.” But I don’t want to get stuck in praise, in the longing for the glory of Jesus without seeing and committing to the Way of Jesus.

One question. Two kinds of responses. Last week I wondered what it might feel like to be looked at carefully by Jesus with love. This week I wonder what it would feel like to be asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” 

How are we invited to respond to that question? With James and John? Or with Bartimaeus? After this, as Jesus enters Jerusalem and gets closer to the cross, there will more confrontations with power and domination. What do we want Jesus to do for us? 

Here is my prayer: May we see the Way of Jesus and have the courage to follow it, even if it’s uncomfortable or difficult.  May we see the way power corrupts the powerful and harms and weak and challenge the systems that do violence. May we see those who are silenced by the roadside and make a way for them. May we see those who are captive and oppressed and look for means of liberation and freedom. May we see with our eyes and with our hearts. Lord Jesus, we want to see. Amen.

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