Sunday’s sermon: What Do You Want Me to Do For You?

what do you want

Text used – Mark 10:32-52





  • I was watching a movie with the boys the other day (in fact, I think it might have been last Sunday afternoon during our family down time!). We were watching a classic … well, it’s a classic for me. For the boys, it was their first time. We were watching Disney’s “Aladdin” – the animated version from 1992.
    • Scene that struck me: scene after Aladdin has found the magic lamp in the cave and discovered the Genie inside → Genie tells Aladdin he gets three wishes → Aladdin confesses that he doesn’t really know what to wish for, so he asks the Genie what he would wish for if the Genie himself had three wishes → Genie’s response = freedom – line: “It’s all part and parcel, the whole genie gig. Phenomenal cosmic powers! Itty bitty living space. But oh, to be free! Not to have to go POOF! ‘What do you need?’ POOF! ‘What do you need?’ POOF! ‘What do you need?’ To be my own master! Such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the in all the world!”[1]

    • As I sat down to start working on the worship material and my sermon for this week, that scene kept ringing in my head, especially those last few lines: “POOF! What do you need? POOF! What do you need? POOF! What do you need?” And it struck me because we hear Jesus basically saying that again and again in our Scripture reading this morning.
      • Asks it of the disciples
      • Asks it of a blind beggar on the road
      • And it’s the quintessential question for Lent … but maybe not in the way we think.
  • Actually going to start part-way through our Scripture reading this morning – reading is 3 short sections, and we’re going to start with the 2nd section → story of James and John’s unabashed hubris
    • Text: James and John, Zebedee’s sons, came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”[2] → I’m sorry. What? What?! Talk about speaking from a place of privilege! “We’ve been traveling with you for a while now, Jesus, so it’s time to cash in our chips for a big favor score.” Again, I say … what?! But it doesn’t end there.
    • Text continues: “What do you want me to do for you?” [Jesus] asked. They said, “Allow one of us to sit on your right hand and the other on your left when you enter your glory.”[3] → Ooooo … y’all! The audacity of this is a little staggering, isn’t it? Can’t you just picture James and John sidling up to Jesus when they think none of the other disciples are listening and making this request in low, conspiratorial voices?
      • Actually see that hidden in the Gr. of the text – James and John “came to Jesus” = “came up to, approached” → So we can imagine Jesus and the disciples all traveling in a gaggle together, some walking faster and some walking slower, with Jesus leading the way. And from somewhere in that gaggle, James and John speed up their pace a little bit to leave the other disciples behind and buddy up to their Teacher.
    • Jesus’ response = meant to bring a little reality to James’ and John’s fantastical aspirations – text: Jesus replied, “You don’t know what you’re asking! Can you drink the cup I drink or receive the baptism I receive?” “We can,” they answered.[4]
      • Jesus doesn’t ridicule them
      • Jesus doesn’t chastise them
      • Jesus doesn’t laugh in their faces or tell them they’re being selfish, grandeur-seeking fools
      • Jesus’ response is calm. Matter of fact. Measured. He simply tries to make it clear to James and John that Jesus’ own mission is not their mission.
      • But James and John don’t give up that easily. They’ve made their ask, and they’re sticking to it. In fact, they’re doubling down! “Sure, Jesus! No problem. We can follow where you go. We can do what you do. We’ve been doing it for the last few years now, right? How much harder can it get?”
        • Scholar: Mark paints a picture of James and John being so caught up in popularity and power that they cannot see reality. James and John are observing the popularity of Jesus and not the harsh political reality that Jesus is about to be handed over to those who hate his life and want to see it brought to a humiliating end. James and John have no earthly idea what they are asking.[5]
    • Jesus lays it out even clearer for them – text: Jesus said, “You will drink the cup I drink and receive the baptism I receive, but to sit at my right or left hand isn’t mine to give. It belongs to those for whom it has been prepared.”[6] → Notice that even in the face of James and John’s persistent and audacious presumption, Jesus remains compassionate. Jesus remains level-headed. Jesus remains a teacher and mentor through and through. Before letting them down as definitively as he can (telling them that the places of honor on his right and left aren’t his to give), he reassures them of their worth, telling them that they are indeed capable of drinking the cup that Jesus himself will drink and receiving the baptism that Jesus himself will receive (though James and John certainly don’t understand at this point that Jesus is telling them they will die the death of martyrs for their faith).
    • The other disciples, on the other hand, don’t react quite so tolerantly → somehow the other 10 disciples catch wind of the conversation that Jesus, James, and John have been having, and they are pretty upset with James and John → Jesus (ever the teacher) grabs hold of this teachable moment
      • Calls all the disciples back together
      • Points out the vanity of the Gentile rulers and how they show off their authority and power to those around them
      • Gives the disciples a pretty pointed directive – text: “But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all, for the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.”[7]
  • 3rd section of today’s text = Jesus living example of this mission of service for the disciples
    • Jesus and his disciples are continuing their journey and come to Jericho → spend an undisclosed amount of time there → on their way out, Jesus, the disciples, and “a sizeable crowd” encounter a blind beggar named Bartimaeus – text: When [Bartimaeus] heard that Jesus of Nazareth was there, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy!” Many scolded him, telling him to be quiet, but he shouted even louder, “Son of David, show me mercy!”[8] → Before we go further, I want to remind you of how disabilities and illnesses were viewed in Jesus’ time. Unless the disability was the result of some sort of accident (loss of a limb, etc.), it was seen as a punishment for sin – either your own sin or the sin of your parents. They did something wrong. They offered the wrong offering or neglected the wrong offering or you didn’t pray the right prayer or make a pilgrimage for the right festival or wash in the ritual bath at the right time, and so you were afflicted with this condition. It didn’t matter if it was permanent or not. It didn’t matter if it was congenital or not. (Actually, that probably made it worse.) So people would have seen Bartimaeus not only as a sinner but also as unclean – someone held on the fringes of their society for fear of tainting that society and all who came in contact with him.
      • Makes Bartimaeus’ tenacity all the more impressive – scholar: We ought to acknowledge that Bartimaeus demonstrates a gutsy perseverance in his response to the divine initiative in the person of Jesus. The text fairly shouts the loud persistence of this marginalized human being. He will not be silenced.[9]
    • Jesus response to that faith-filled tenacity – text: Jesus stopped and said, “Call him forward.” They called the blind man, “Be encouraged! Get up! He’s calling you.” Throwing his coat to the side, he jumped up and came to Jesus. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see.” Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” At once he was able to see, and he began to follow Jesus on the way.[10] → 2 important things about this text
      • FIRST, Jesus asks Bartimaeus exactly the same question that he just asked James and John when they made their absurd request: “What do you want me to do for you?”
        • Gives us a sense of equality → Bartimaeus is someone who has never encountered Jesus before. He hasn’t been following him and learning from him for the past three years. He hasn’t been part of Jesus’ inner circle. And yet here’s Jesus giving him the exact same opening that he gave his disciples. “What do you want me to do for you?” There is an equanimity to this. There’s an impartiality. It reminds us that God hears all our prayers – rich or poor, educated or uneducated, spoken or silent, ridiculous or mundane, no matter the language, no matter the context, no matter the request. God opens God’s own ears and heart to each and every one of us and says with compassion, “What do you want me to do for you?”
      • SECOND, Bartimaeus is the last person that Jesus will heal before he enters Jerusalem for the last time → Did you notice what was missing when Jesus healed Bartimaeus? We’ve read a number of other healing and teaching passages throughout Mark’s gospel this year, and in nearly every circumstance, Jesus firmly instructs the person who was healed not to tell anyone. But healing Bartimaeus is a significant turning point in Jesus’ ministry because he is already headed to Jerusalem. He is headed to betrayal. He is headed to the cross. The time for secrecy has passed. Jesus’ only instruction to Bartimaeus is, “Go, your faith has healed you.”
  • So we have these two examples of big, bold requests made of Jesus in our Scripture reading this morning
    • Jesus’ invitation for both requests is the same: “What do you want me to do for you?”
    • Jesus’ response to both requests is different
      • Grants Bartimaeus’ request for healing
      • Denies James’ and John’s request for prestige
    • It’s important to note these two things because it reminds us that God does indeed hear all our prayers openly and compassionately, but that doesn’t mean that God grants every request. And it reminds us that when our prayers are not answered in the way that would like them to be answered, it doesn’t say anything about our faith or lack thereof.
      • Nothing about our text indicates that Bartimaeus’ faith was better, smarter, smoother, flashier, or more sincere than James’ and John’s faith → And yet Bartimaeus’ request was granted while James’ and John’s was not.
  • But here’s the thing, friends. Here we are in this season of Lent. Here we are in this season of repentance and self-reflection. This season of examination – examining ourselves, examining our faith, examining our relationship with God and with one another. (Incidentally, today’s Photo Challenge word is ‘examine.’ Hmmm … I wonder why.) So while we often come to God asking as James and John and Bartimaeus all did, and while God is more than willing to hear us with love and mercy and grace, the ultimate purpose of faith is to turn Jesus’ question back around – to come to God saying, “What do you want me to do for you?”
    • Reason for that turning = first part of our Scripture reading this morning – text: Jesus and his disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, with Jesus in the lead. … Taking the twelve aside again, he told them what was about to happen to him. “Look!” he said. “We’re going up to Jerusalem. The Human One will be handed over to the chief priests and the legal experts. They will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles. They will ridicule him, spit on him, torture him, and kill him. After three days, he will rise up.”[11]
      • Last time in Mk’s gospel that Jesus attempts to warn the disciples about what’s coming (last of 3 times)
        • And once again, clearly, the disciples don’t get it because directly following this crucial revelation is James’ and John’s preposterous request.
      • Beginning of our text = our ultimate reminder of exactly what Jesus did for us → the ultimate answer to the question that he asks again and again in today’s text: “What do you want me to do for you?”
        • Reminder that Jesus suffered humiliation and torture for us
        • Reminder that Jesus went to the cross and the grave for us
        • Reminder that after three days, Jesus rose from that grave to give us a stark, unrelenting, unmistakable picture of exactly how much God loves us and how much God wants to do for us
  • So let us hold up a mirror this morning: A mirror to ourselves. A mirror to our relationships. A mirror to our desires and prayer. And a mirror to Jesus’ own question. Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Let us respond: “No, Jesus. What do you want me to do for you?” Amen.

[1] Aladdin. Walt Disney Pictures. Released Nov. 25, 1992.

[2] Mk 10:35.

[3] Mk 10:36-37.

[4] Mk 10:38-39a.

[5] William E. Crowder, Jr. “Mark 10:35-45 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 328.

[6] Mk 10:39b-40.

[7] Mk 10:43-45.

[8] Mk 10:47-48.

[9] Michael Lodahl. “Mark 10:46-52 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 332.

[10] Mk 10:49-52.

[11] Mk 10:32-34.

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