“What do you want me to do for you?”
That’s a question that I often forget to ask. I sometimes tend to charge into situations – certain of what the need is . . . and some of the time it goes fine — but not always. In any case, I’ve learned that it’s best to ask upfront – and even more important: it’s best to listen well before presuming to solve someone else’s problem!
Today, I wonder . . . if I had encountered Bartimaeus on the road from Jericho . . . I wonder if he would have ended up with an extra five dollars in his pocket, this because it would have been my quick-fix response. I might have presumed that’s what he needed or wanted . . . because I would have neglected to ask.
But Jesus doesn’t presume, even though he is God Incarnate, even though he knows every human need even before we ask, and even though the man standing before him is clearly blind.
Before doing anything for Bartimaeus, Jesus first asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”
In the gospel reading from last week, Jesus asked two of his disciples, James and John, the very same question. “What do you want me to do for you?” James and John were wanting positions of power and prestige at Jesus’ side when he entered into his glory.
But this week, Bartimaeus, isn’t looking for special privileges. He just wants to see. And this points us to the fact that Jesus has not come to bestow power and honor. Jesus has come to heal the blind, to open eyes to the new spiritual and physical realities that are possible in God’s kingdom. When it comes to understanding what Jesus has come to do, his close friends James and John are more “blind” than Bartimaeus.
Bartimaeus asks for the right thing. When Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” his reply is “My teacher, let me see again.” He declares – without hesitation – that Jesus can deliver the wholeness and salvation that people seek. In this confidence and simplicity, Bartimaeus reveals his belief in Jesus . . . Bartimaeus reveals his faith.
Faith can make us well. Faith is not magic – or superstition – or some simple fix, of course. When Jesus says to Bartimaeus, “Your faith has made you well”, he is not saying that Bartimaeus somehow believed his way into wellness. Rather Jesus is pronouncing his wellness . . . declaring it . . . making it happen. It is Jesus who heals . . . and faith that receives that healing. And so it is, or can be, for us. Faith and acceptance can make us well.
Faith can open our eyes and clear out our ears: this is how faith brings about forgiveness . . . how faith and wellness meet. This is the power of Jesus’ work of salvation. This is the consummation of faith and fullness of life . . .
There is a challenge for us in the imagery and the story of Bartimaeus.
• Is this a story you recognize from your own life?
• Have you ever heard the voice of Jesus and sprung up to follow?
• And there’s that wonderful detail about the cloak: Bartimaeus threw off his cloak. What would it mean for you to throw off your cloak? Might it be letting go of your fears, your baggage, . . . and the other things you tend to put your trust in?
And when Jesus says to you, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ what would you say? What would you say today?
If Jesus were to fully open our eyes, what might that require of us? If we were to go into the world, no longer blind but seeing . . . no longer unfeeling, but caring . . . no longer deaf, but hearing the cries of those in pain who sit along the side of the road – how might our lives and the lives of people around us be different?
But honestly, regaining sight – being willing to be healed from spiritual blindness – takes courage. Truth be told, most of us tend to seek mere relief rather than healing. . . and there is a big difference between momentary relief and true healing . . .
Jesus is in the healing business.
Actually what Jesus is saying to Bartimaeus, and to us is, “Are you really sure you want healing?” Jesus respects us, and he respects our freedom. He needs our consent before he enters our lives with his healing presence.
Yes, to be healed requires courage. So maybe that question from last week’s gospel is applicable when we cry out to God for healing: Jesus asks “Do you have any idea what you are asking?” . . . Often – we do not.
True healing takes courage because it will bring about change, . . . and it will present new demands. If a blind man is healed, it’s no longer acceptable for him to sit and beg – more will be expected of him. He has more to give. And through it all, his life will be irrevocably changed.
When we look to the blind man Bartimaeus who hailed Jesus from the side of the road on his way up to Jerusalem, we’re challenged to ask:
• What adventure in faith awaits us?
• Where is the Spirit leading us today?
So I invite you all to have a “Jesus-and-Bartimaeus” conversation this week . . . and here’s what I mean by that: Set aside some time to think about – and pray about – what you want done for you at this point in your life . . .
At this Eucharist, Jesus invites each of us to come to him. As you come to receive Jesus in the sacrament, come with the faith of Bartimaeus. Throw off your cloak, whatever it might be, and as you eat the bread and drink the wine, hear Jesus asking you, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
Listen to him asking – and then . . . – tell him.