Have you ever known anyone who really was not particularly interested in getting well?
I know that sounds odd; you would think that someone who was ill would want nothing more than to be well again. But there are some people like that.
Their illness, or condition, or difficult circumstances have garnered for them attention and sympathy that has become all-too comfortable and beneficial to them. Sometimes the person will complain bitterly about their problems and pains but will protest even more loudly when you offer help or suggest alternatives. It is at this point you recognize that person really doesn’t want to get well. The effort and pain of healing seems to be too much to contemplate – never mind losing the attention of others that such self-centeredness brings.
This is not a new phenomenon; there have always been people like this. Perhaps you have had to care for such a person. Perhaps you have even flirted with being that sort of person yourself when you have been through a difficult period in your life. It can be a very tempting and self-destructive pattern to fall into; not to mention making those around you miserable.
So when Jesus asks Bartimaeus, the beggar who was blind: “What do you want me to do for you?” it is a real question.
Doe Bartimaeus really want to give up the pity he may have become used to from being blind? Does he really want to give up a life of begging (as hard as that is) and take on a different means of supporting himself? Does he really want to be restored to relationships with others and his community? Is he ready and willing to take on the challenges of living life in a way that will be new and different? All of these concerns are wrapped up in Jesus’ single question: “What do you want me to do for you?”
The way Mark paints this encounter is spare, brief. Jesus, the disciples, and a crowd of others are leaving the city of Jericho, an eighteen-mile walk to Jerusalem, and one with a steep climb of over three-thousand feet in elevation. The road between them follows the top of a narrow, stony ridge that twists and turns through the arid Judean desert. At the end of this road is Jerusalem, the center of all legal, religious, economic, and cultural power. And at the end of this particular journey Jesus would enter the city for the last time – humble, and riding on a donkey.
Bartimaeus, sitting by the side of the road hears the crowd, hears that Jesus is at the center of it, and calls out to him to get his attention. Bartimaeus calls him “Son of David”, a title for the Messiah. The crowd tries to shut him up; so as not to bother Jesus, or because he is merely a blind beggar, or because that “Son of David” title could bring down the wrath of the authorities if it got spread abroad, we don’t know.
But Bartimaeus persists, and Jesus responds with the question about his desire. Bartimaeus responds swiftly and whole-heartedly: “My teacher, Rabbi, let me see again!” He is not only asking for his vision to be restored, but he is also claiming a connection, a relationship with Jesus.
Jesus answers him very simply: “Go; your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus’ sight is immediately restored, and he follows Jesus, both physically and in faith, throwing in his lot with the others as a disciple.
In this encounter and healing, Mark wants to draw our attention to direct, persistent, whole-hearted, eager faith – even in the face of the challenges of the Jericho road, and even more, in the events that will soon transpire in Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem.
If Jesus were to ask you the same question he asked Bartimaeus – What do you want me to do for you? – what would your answer be? What is it that you long for Christ to do for you?
What is holding you back from being the person you know God wants you to be? What roadblock seems to trip you up over and over? In particular, what is it that you carry with you that you would be better off letting go of and losing, like Bartimaeus did with letting go of his blindness? What would really set you free in heart, body, mind, and soul?
Even if you don’t think you have the faith to ask for God’s help, or to let go of those things that drag you down, or the faith to do anything different, Jesus still asks: “What do you want me to do for you?” and he means it.
So tell him; be honest. But also be willing to change, to let God change you. Be willing to trust that while the road ahead of you may be new, and strange, and even steep and rocky – especially now when the world around us continues to change in often dramatic ways – it will also be a path filled with the purpose and blessings and joy of God’s presence.
Let us pray.
Restore us, Holy One, Son of David, Merciful Savior, in the ways we long for and in all the ways that are best for us; only, attune our hearts to your desires and give us the faith to walk your way with gladness and singleness of heart. Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
October 24, 2021