Let Me See
A teenager walks up to his mom and she looks at him with suspicious eyes. It is 8:30 am on a Saturday, he has taken a shower, his hair AND teeth are brushed, and his clothes look ok. He looks at his mom and tells her that his room is clean and was wondering if there was anything he could help with around the house this morning. The mom stands there, coffee cup in her hand, stunned look in her eye, and one thought in her brain. (Anyone know what that thought could be?) What do you want me to do for you?
Every parent of teenagers has this experience from one time or another. Their child morphs into something entirely different in order to get something they are hoping to get; permission to go to a party, the keys to the car for Friday night, the chance to stay over at a friend’s house and the list can go on. The teenager has a motive for his asking, he has purpose and direction, he has a goal and a final destination and is willing to go to any extreme to get it. Even willing to go the extreme of cleaning his room and himself before noon on a Saturday.
In the 10th chapter of Mark’s gospel we get four pictures of people wanting something from Jesus. The chapter starts off with Pharisees coming up and asking Jesus about divorce. In the next section a rich young man comes up and asks Jesus about inheriting eternal life. The first two questions of this chapter are pretty strait forward. Their motives are written into the story. The second verse tells us that “Some Pharisees came and tested him.” Their motives were to test Jesus, to trap him, to disprove him and to remove him from the realm of influence. How did that go for them though? The rich young man, if you remember my sermon two weeks ago, came up to Jesus to ask him about how to inherit eternal life. He was looking for a checklist, like the 10 Commandments, that he could simply follow and live by. What he got instead was a small look into the Kingdom of God.
Catalogs are starting to roll out their Christmas specials. Toys R Us will have their “Big Toy Book” out soon with tons of pictures for kids to droll over. I remember looking through the JC Penny’s Christmas catalog and circling the toys I thought were really neat and that I wanted for Christmas. My parents can verify this but I am sure there were too many pages that didn’t have something circled. These catalogs made it easy to identify my desires. I wanted the A-Team action figure set with the van with the removable top and Face’s white Corvette. I wanted the newest Lego set, micro machines, GI Joes, and that new video game system called Nintendo, the one with the square controller. This catalog put a picture to every need I had for that Christmas season. Just like the first two questions Jesus gets in this 10th chapter, I could easily spell my hearts desires because this catalog knew my heart.
As a child it is easy to name your desires, to name your wants, but as we get older something happens and that tends to go away. During our premarital counseling, the wise man behind me asked Alycia and me a very simple yet poignant question. (Do you remember what that question was?) You asked us, “After seven of dating, why do you want to get married?” Apparently we gave the right answer because you did marry us some months later but that is a question I now ask everyone I do premarital counseling with. It is the first question I ask and it tells me a lot about their relationship. What is striking is how awkward the room gets after that question. It is like I asked for the square root of 453. They sit there stunned and in awe that no one has asked them this question yet. The right answer to this question is “because we love each other and cannot live without one another.” Answers that give most pastor’s pause about a relationship: “Because his rich.” “Just look at her Pastor, would you have a problem marring this?” “We’re expecting and our parents are making us.”
I think couples have a hard time answering that question because deep down they may not know yet what they want out of a lifelong commitment from the person sitting next to them. They have the catalog ideas found in the movies that they can circle, growing old together, a big house and a white picket fence out front, kids, and of course, happily ever after. I can see some married couples shaking their heads because you know there is a lot of stuff that happens in between the “I dos” and the happily ever after. If you don’t know what you want out of that relationship then you could be heading down a road traveled by half the married couples in this country which ends up far away from happily ever after.
After the rich young man, Jesus is asked another question. This question doesn’t come from the religious leaders or an outsider but from Jesus’ disciples. Actually there are two of the three inner circle disciples, James and John. After they hear Jesus predict his death, these two brothers come up to Jesus and ask him, “Teacher, we want you to do whatever we ask.” Umm. Do you think this could be a loaded question? Jesus responds by saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” They reply “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” Jesus goes on to tell them that they have no clue what they are asking for and apparently they were not paying attention to their sneak peak at the kingdom of God. The other 9 disciples get wind of this and they start to get upset. It is classic power play, which luckily we churches in the 21st century have grown above now. Jesus reminds them but in some firmer terms of what the kingdom of God will look like. “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
James and John show their cards in this text. They know they are Jesus’ inner circle. They even believe that Jesus could be the Messiah. They want in on the great retirement plan. They want to be set up like Princes of the kingdom, sitting on each side of Christ. They want power, pride, power, glory, and more power. When Jesus asks them “What do you want me to do for you?” Their question revels that they would like the power offered to Christ in his temptation in the wilderness. They want it all and they know the way to get it is through Jesus. But Jesus reminds them…that is not how the kingdom of God works.
All the way through the 10th chapter of Mark, Jesus is traveling and a crowd is following them. When we get to verse 46 they have arrived at Jericho. Jesus is walking and he has mad disciples with him, probably still frustrated at James and John, other people who may question his answer about divorce and people still shocked he said that to the rich young man. Yet there were still those who just wanted to be close to Jesus. Who came into the crowd because they were drawn to him. They were drawn to his teachings, his compassion, or just because he was Jesus. They were all there as they entered Jericho.
Bartimaeus was there as they all went by. He was begging, the social welfare system of the day. He was probably always there begging for hand outs, food, or some coins. The worst begging I ever saw was while Alycia and I were in Rome. We were waiting in line to get into the Vatican and there was a round gypsy looking woman on the ground missing one leg. She rattled her metal cup at us as the line moved slowly pasted her. Alycia and I were very uncomfortable with this. We had seen beggars before, dirty, smelly people standing at busy intersections with signs asking for help. But this woman took it to an ‘old world’ level and the physical deformity really was eye opening. When we exited the Vatican after our visit we ran into the woman again. Being that close to the Pope must have enabled a miracle to happen because the woman’s leg had re-grown but now part of her arm was missing. Alycia and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes and once again kept walking.
I am sure many people thought the same thing about Bartimaeus. Sitting there every day looking for a hand out, just like the countless other at the city entrance. The outsider is sitting there as all the insiders pass by. Bartimaeus hears that Jesus of Nazareth is the one who passed by and he starts to call out to him. What do the insiders do? They push him away. But he continues to call out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stops and he tells the crowds to send Bartimaeus to him. Bartimaeus hops up and gets to Jesus and is healed because of his faith.
Before Jesus heals him though he asks him a question and it is one we have already heard. He speaks to the outsider and he asks him “what do you want me to do for you?” For the outsider, for the poor, for the hungry, for the sick, for the lame, for the blind like Bartimaeus, that question is easy to answer. Like children during Christmas their need is very present and very tangible. Bartimaeus answers Jesus, “let me see.”
My mind goes back the crowd who has heard these four questions asked of Jesus, starting with the Pharisees and now with this blind beggar. Do they get it? I wonder what the disciples thought. They were told twice in this chapter what the Kingdom of God was going to be like. They heard that the first would be last and the last first. Jesus looks at them all and tells them to be a slave to all, to serve. There the chance was, sitting right there at the gate, and they missed it.
But that is the wonderful thing about Jesus and the power of his love and grace. He doesn’t rebuke them or make a huge scene about the insiders attempting to keep all the outsiders out. Instead he uses them. He tells the crowd to send Bartimaeus to him. For those in the crowd that just wanted to be close to Jesus and not really get involved were all of a sudden thrown into the miracle of the blind receiving sight. Simply being in the presence of Jesus makes us active participants in the ministry and miracles he performs.
The truth is Jesus asks each of us, “What do you want me to do for you?” For the last and the least they know the answer. It is harder for us on in the inside. We have to pretend to have it all together. We are churchgoers, active in our congregation, regular worship attendees but what do we need from Jesus? When you think you have everything it is hard to make that Christmas list out and the catalog doesn’t help. When you think you have it all together, the job, the house, the 2 kids and the dog, why do you need anything from Jesus? When you are standing at the front of the line in this world it is really hard to look at the blind beggar and understand why he is in the front of the world to come. But that is the reality of the Kingdom of God.
The son of God asks each of us “What do you want me to do for you?” For many of us we have to work really hard to come up with an answer but that is the work we are called to do. When we know how to answer that question we profess it with ease like Bartimaeus, “Let me see.” When our eyes are opened, we are ready to be a true insider. The last verse says that Bartimaeus “immediately regained his sight and followed him on the way.” He followed Jesus, who in the next verse heads into Jerusalem on a donkey. When we find out how to answer that question, our eyes will be opened and we will be willing to follow him, even to the cross.
And all God’s people said…Amen.