Sermon: What Do You Want Me to Do for You?
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Job 42.1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34.1-8, (19-220; Hebrews 7.23-28; Mark 10. 46-52
Over the past few weeks, we have been working our way through some key passages of Mark. Following the feeding of the multitude in chapter 8, Jesus and the disciples traveled by boat to Dalmanutha where they encountered a group of Pharisees looking for a sign – they were testing Jesus. Mark tells us Jesus “sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation’” (Mark 8.12; NRSV). Jesus and the disciples again get into the boat and cross to the other side. En route, Jesus cautioned the disciples to be aware of the yeast of the Pharisees. The disciples, not understanding Jesus’ message, began to wonder if he spoke thus because they had no bread. Jesus then said, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and fail to see? Do you have ears and fail to hear? Do you not remember . . . the five loaves and the five thousand? . . . Do you not yet understand” (Mark 8.17-21; NRSV)?
Mark next recounts the healing of the blind man in Bethsaida. Some people brought the blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch him. Jesus led the blind man out of the village, placed saliva on his eyes, laid hands on him, and asked if he could see anything. He reported he could see but dimly – people looked like trees walking, Jesus again laid hands on his eyes, and he received his sight.
Over the past few weeks we have been tracing Jesus’ and the disciples’ journey up to Jerusalem. In today’s reading, we are in Jericho where we again encounter the healing of a blind man. This is the last recorded event on the journey – from here on out, the setting is Jerusalem. These two stories of healing the blind serve as bookends to the journey – did Mark have some reason for using them as such?
In this story, the blind beggar sitting by the roadside is named – he is Bartimaeus (literally, “Son of Timaeus”). Hearing that Jesus is near, Bartimaeus begins to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Calling Jesus “Son of David” indicates he recognized Jesus to be the Messiah. People ordered him to be quiet – I suspect the disciples were among them – but he yelled all the louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” When told Jesus was calling him, Bartimaeus cast off his cloak and came to Jesus.
Note Jesus’ words, “What do you want me to do for you?” This is the same question Jesus asked James and John when they asked Jesus to grant a request. In their blindness, they sought honor –to sit at Jesus’ right and left when he came into his glory. In contrast, blind Bartimaeus honored Jesus, for he said, “My teacher, let me see again.” Note the “again;” at some time Bartimaeus had lost his sight. Then Jesus said, “Go, your faith has made you well.” Unlike the first blind man, Bartimaeus’ sight was immediately restored. But instead of leaving and returning home, Bartimaeus followed Jesus. How unlike the rich ruler who was told to go, sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. His possessions stood in his way. But Bartimaeus was a poor beggar who received the one thing he wanted – to see again. What a gift! Here is an instance in which the beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” was realized. Even though the disciples had difficulty understanding, Bartimaeus got it! In his blindness, might he have seen more clearly than did the disciples? Remember Jesus questioned the disciples: “Do you have eyes and fail to see?” (loc. cit.)
Dennis Hamm, S.J., (http://liturgy.slu.edu/30OrdB102818/theword_hamm.html) beautifully summarizes the key points of this passage within its broader context:
When we look at how Mark has arranged the elements of his story of Jesus it becomes evident that this is his deliberate theme. He has taken the two cures from blindness and placed them like bookends on either side of the segment about the spiritual blindness of the disciples. The keynote is sounded in the conversation in the boat, when Jesus asks, “Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?” (Mk 8:18). Then follows the curious account of the blind man who is cured in two stages (seeing first partially, then fully). This parallels the situation of Peter, who in the next episode becomes the first disciple to see that Jesus is the Christ. Then, when Peter fails to see how suffering fits the Messiah, he demonstrates that his vision is, at this stage, only partial. The failure of the disciples properly to see what kind of Christ Jesus is (a suffering Son of Man) comes to a head in the blindness of the Zebedee brothers’ request for top positions in the glory of the kingdom . . . this blind man knows enough to say what the Zebedees should have said, “Master, I want to see.”
Mark’s point: If you fail to see Jesus as the suffering Son of Man and what that implies about following him, pray that your blindness may be healed.
Hamm’s analysis reminds me of the saying, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” Although this sounds like a biblical quotation, it is not, but it may have been based on Jeremiah 5.21, “Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but do not see, who have ears, but do not hear" (NRSV). Jesus likely drew from this passage when he chided the disciples for their lack of understanding.
How might this passage speak to us? First, it is worth noting that the passage includes the “Jesus Prayer” which is highly practiced, especially, though not exclusively, in the Orthodox Church. Like blind Bartimaeus, we may pray, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” This prayer is frequently combined with breathing exercises and used in meditation: (inhale) Lord, Jesus Christ, (exhale) Son of God, (inhale) have mercy upon me, (exhale) a sinner.
Second, we might contemplate how we would respond to Jesus’ question, “What would you have me do for you?” Jesus would have us live victoriously over sin as we are transformed into the image of God. How would we answer Jesus? In our blindness, would we ask for prosperity and an easy life? Or like James and John, might we ask for honor? Or might we have enough courage to say with Bartimaeus, “Master, I want to see?”
Third, if we have the courage to say with Bartimaeus, “Master, I want to see!” what might Jesus have us see?
Jesus would have us see the depths of our own sinful nature.
Jesus would have us see the immensity of God’s love for us, a love which compelled God to take on human flesh and dwell among us that we might have a high priest who intercedes for us.
Jesus would have us see the cross as the focal point of salvation history – both communal and individual.
Jesus would have us see the needs and suffering of our neighbor.
Jesus would have us see the devastation of poverty and war.
Jesus would have us see the degradation of our environment.
Having been mercifully granted salvation, Jesus would have us see the love and fellowship we can extend through being the Church.
Jesus would have us see a vision of the kingdom of heaven which is with us now – would have us see what could be as opposed to what is that we might redouble our efforts out of love.
Jesus would have us see and experience the fullness of life that comes through life in God.
Sadly, many do not wish to see. They would rather remain in the comfort of their illusions and in the blindness created by greed. Once again, there are none so blind as those who will not see.
Oh, that we might see, that we might hear, that we might understand, that, like Bartimaeus, we might follow Jesus. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us, sinners that we are. Help us to see!” Amen