Have been meaning to share the sermon I preached this past Sunday. I began by reading both the passages of the Gospel for 10/25 as well as from 10/18, as noted below. We moved into a time of a congregation forum later in the service, so I preached just a short homily instead of a full message as usual.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; 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. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
“What do you want me to do for you?”
This is the question that Jesus asks, in two very different contexts.
The first time, it is in response to James’ and John’s demand, and the second time, it is in response to a very different plea from the blind beggar Bartimaeus, who cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks, both in response to those who demand glory and to one who seeks healing.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks with outstretched arms, open hands, looking at us.
We come to Jesus, in all our different contexts, some of us seeking worldly goods, recognition, and a seat of honor. Some of us come, looking for Jesus to search us and know us, to discover our most wounded places, our griefs and our brokenness, and to make us whole.
Any way that we approach Jesus, we do so with our humanity in full view. Both the stories of James & John and of Bartimaeus showcase the different aspects of very human beings and the needs that we present. Desires for greatness, and desires to just be healed enough that we might experience all that life has to offer—all that it seems others already have access to.
I tend to pick on James and John in the passage from last week, but I don’t mean to imply that they are so bad. They give us a great view of a very human way to approach God, and I should be the first to admit that I have certainly approached God with requests that had more to do with my ego or with selfish, worldly desires than concerns about service, or mission, or healing. So I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s a mortal sin to stand in front of God with a misguided request.
And at the same time, the contrast with Blind Bartimaeus in today’s passage helps us to gain some perspective about what we are asking from Jesus.
We can look at ourselves and the requests we bring to Jesus and discern if they are in alignment with furthering God’s kingdom here on earth, or if they are more in alignment with furthering our own self-interests.
What kind of requests do you present to God? Do you truly show God where you are must vulnerable and in need of God’s intervention? Or do you prefer to hide those parts of yourself, and instead ask God for things that could be considered more superficial? Know that God waits, through Jesus Christ, to hear the desires of your heart—the things that REALLY matter to you, the things that keep you up at night, the things that haunt your soul in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon when you think you’re just going to go pick up the dry cleaning and instead find yourself sitting in the parking lot with tears in your eyes.
Regardless of the requests you bring, Jesus’ response will be the same: “What do you want me to do for you?”
Jesus longs for you to share with him what you need, and how he can serve you. Hear these words of truth, and allow them to bring the truth out of your soul, out of your heart, and onto your lips, that you might live your life fully, and in cooperation with the Risen Christ, who is here in our midst, today and always. Amen.