Today we reach the halfway point in this series of reflections on great questions from the Bible with the story of blind Bartimaeus’ recovery of sight. I do not believe for a minute that it is mere coincidence that causes Mark to place this account of a blind person having his sight restored immediately after the rather myopic request of James and John to sit at Christ’s right and left in glory, even after He has told them that the kingdom belongs to such as small, needy and vulnerable children. Surely, then, we are to understand from this in the story following that whatever work of healing Christ can do for the body, He can also do for the soul. Leaving Jericho, Jesus and his disciples are attended by a great crowd of people. As they walk, they pass a blind beggar by the side of the main road, with his cloak laid out in front of him to collect donations from any benevolent passers-by. Hearing the commotion and finding out it is Jesus, he cries out to Him, seeking to attract His attention. The crowd shouts him down, “Shut up!” they say, “Be quiet!” But he takes no notice. In fact, he cries out all the louder. Jesus hears, calls him over and asks him the question which He asks us today also, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“What do you want me to do for you?” Arguably this belongs in the ‘Stupid Questions God Asks Us’ category of questions. He’s blind, Jesus. What do you think he wants You to do for him? It’s obvious, isn’t it? A colleague of mine during my time in Yorkshire spoke powerfully on this story. He had spent years in urban ministry, working with many different people with multiple and complex needs. This story meant a lot to him. He pointed out how Jesus doesn’t presume to know what Bartimaeus wants, but empowers him by asking him what he wants. Sometimes, he said, it is so easy for the so-called ‘haves’ in a society to think they know what the so-called ‘have-nots’ want and so they plunge right in without actually finding out for themselves what they want. Perhaps, he suggested, we give people what we hope they want because it is less demanding than actually finding out what they want for ourselves. For Jesus to ask the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” is to make Himself vulnerable; it puts Jesus at Bartimaeus’ service. On the contrary, it is far safer simply to offer something and have the other person say, “That’s not really what I wanted.” That way, we have the moral high ground. “Well I offered,” we can then say. “It’s not my fault if they turned it down.” By asking what He can do for Bartimaeus, Jesus reverses the roles. Blind Bartimaeus is no longer the beggar; but Jesus becomes the servant. What grace is that?! (James and John, are you watching this?)
It is significant, I think, that the blind man in this story is named—Bartimaeus. Perhaps he went on to be a well-known figure in the early Church and that is why he is named when so many other recipients of healing are not. Perhaps, however, the significance may also be that Bartimaeus is given a name in the story because Jesus gives him a voice. Bartimaeus is not just another beggar to throw crumbs of compassion to; Jesus treats him as an individual, as someone whom He may serve. (Again, perhaps there is a lesson in this for how we in the Church should offer charitable assistance?) Jesus hears Bartimaeus among the din and racket of the crowd and listens to him. He is not just a ‘blind beggar’; he is a person with whom Jesus interacts personally. Similarly, Jesus hears also our voice among the noise and commotion of the world. Jesus listens to us just as He did to Bartimaeus and is interested in us enough to ask us, “What do you want me to do for you?” The Lord of heaven and earth is puts Himself at the service of beggars like us!
So, what do we want from Jesus? More generally, what do we want from our relationship with God? Are we just looking for someone to write our cheques and pay our bad debts, or is there more to it than that? Do we, like Bartimaeus, want more than spare change? Do we want to throw away the cloak we used for begging forgiveness and recover our health, free from the disease of our sin? Jesus will do that for us, if we want Him to. Jesus will transform us into our true selves, renewed in Him and changed from glory into glory. Jesus will make us the kind of people who beg to help the beggars. Jesus will make us great, if we will but learn from Him how to serve. The question He asks is simple enough: “What do you want me to do for you?” What are we looking for from Jesus? What expectations do we have from our relationship with Him? What work are we hoping He will do in our lives? Jesus is listening intently. So let’s speak up and tell Him.