What do you want me to do for you?

(A meditation on Mark 10.32-52 presented at Wine Before Breakfast on February 24, 2015)

The Zebedee boys and Bartimaeus.
The contrast couldn’t be more pronounced.

The sons of Zebedee and the son of Timaeus.
Different aspirations, different locations.

The Zebedee boys try to do the backroom deal,
off on their own with Jesus,
hushed voices,
they conspire for power.

Bartimaeus has no access to the backroom.
No access to the inner circle.
No resources to conspire for anything.

These sons of Zebedee have a strategy,
all Bartimaeus has is a tactic.

James and John are close to the centre of it all,
but poor old Bart is hanging out on the margins..

Jimmy and Johnny-boy are on the road going somewhere,
but Bart is sitting in the dust on the side of that road.
And just to deepen the contrast,
while the boys are on the road with Jesus,
they are looking to have places to sit at the end of this journey.
Bartimaeus, however, already has a place to sit – on the side of the road,
but ends up abandoning his place of sitting
in order to get on that road with Jesus.

The Zebedee brothers use their privileged access
to seek to consolidate their privilege,
to secure their access.
Bartimaeus has no access apart from his
disruptive, rude, and loud bellowing.

James and John can just side up to Jesus and calmly say,
“Teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
Bartimaeus has to get attention by screaming his head off,
            “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.”

“Mercy” or “Whatever we ask of you.”

And so Jesus asks them both the same question:
“What do you want me to do for you?”
The same question to the Zebedee insiders
and to Bartimaeus the outsider.

The same question to those at the heart of the Jesus community
and to the one who is simply on the side of the road.

“What do you want me to do for you?”

“Grant us to sit one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

We know where you are going.
You are on your way to Jerusalem to set up your kingdom,
and we are asking for the highest seats in your cabinet,
the highest seats in your administration.

Now Mark tells this story to deepen the tragedy of it all,
but maybe with a touch of humour as well.
I mean, Jesus has just told the disciples for the third time in as many chapters
that he is going to Jerusalem to die.

This is a road that leads to humiliation,
to rejection, mocking, torture and death.
This is a kingdom path that ends up on an imperial cross.
And only then will there be resurrection.

Yes, yes, Jesus, that’s great, but can we get the best seats in your glory?

Can you drink my cup and be baptized with my baptism?

Sure, reply our ambitious little politicians. No problem.

And here’s he amazing thing;

Jesus doesn’t box them around the ears for being so stupid.
Rather, he sadly tells them that they will indeed drink his cup

and be baptized with his baptism,
even though they have no idea what that means.

But the place on his right and on his left,
that is reserved for two other guys, Jesus says.
And in a few chapters we will see
that Jesus is enthroned “King of the Jews” on a cross,
that Jesus enters his glory on a cross,
and that the place reserved on his right and on his left
is for two thieves and crucified on either side of him.
Damn it, James and John,
didn’t Jesus just tell you
that he would be handed over to the Gentiles to be killed,
and here you guys are seeking
to have precisely the kind of authority that these Gentiles exercise!

No, no, no.

Jesus doesn’t rule like the imperial overlords.

And he doesn’t bring his kingdom playing by the empire’s rules.

Don’t you guys get it?
The Son of Man does not come to be served but to serve.
And if you want a place in this kingdom,
then you must abandon all aspiration for power
and take on the mantle of a servant, indeed a slave, of all.

Enter Bartimaeus.

This guy doesn’t even have the wherewithal to be anyone’s
servant or slave.
No one would buy him as a slave precisely because he is useless.
That’s why he’s on the side of the road begging.
He is even lower than a slave, sitting there on his beggars cloak.

But since blind Bart ain’t got nothing, well, he’s got nothing to lose.
He’s got no dignity left to preserve,
no social standing that he needs to protect,
no privileged access that he needs to maintain.

So he shouts his fool head off.
He’s got to get Jesus’ attention so he tells it like it is:

            Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!

Shut up, beggar, you are disturbing the Master,
you are creating a scene.

            Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!

And it works.

Jesus says, “Call him here.”

“Come on, then blind man, this is your lucky day. Jesus is calling for you.”

And Bartemaeus leaves his beggar’s cloak behind,
he leaves behind the little security that he had,
he leaves behind his seat on the side of the road
and comes to Jesus.

And then the same question is asked again.

Jesus asks the son of Timaeus the same question that he
asked of the sons of Zebedee.

“What do you want me to do for you?”

And the contrast between this blind man
and two of the insiders amongst the disciples
couldn’t be more radical.

Bartimaeus answers, “My rabbi, let me see again.”

What do you want me to do for you?

Give us power in your kingdom
Let me see again.

Give us honour and prestige
Let me see again.

“Go,” Jesus replied, “your faith has made you well.”

Go, you have seen deeply with the eyes of faith.
Go, you no longer need to sit at the side of this road.
Go, you need your beggars cloak no more.

But Bartimaeus does not go.

He doesn’t go home.
He doesn’t go away with his new found sight.

He doesn’t go, he follows.
He follows Jesus on the way.
He joins the way.
He who was blind sitting at the side of the road,
now joins the company of Jesus on the road,
eyes wide open.

And what things those eyes will see in the next week,
as he follows Jesus into Jerusalem with the crowds hailing their new king,
as he follows Jesus into the Temple where he will overthrow the furniture,
as he watches Jesus push the confrontation with the authorities to the breaking point,
as he sees the soldiers take him away and hears the lash of the whip,
as he follows Jesus bearing a cross out of the city,
as he sees the inscription ‘king of the Jews’ above the one who gave him sight,
as he bears witness through tear filled eyes the death of Jesus, the Son of David,
the one who had shown mercy to this blind beggar.

Terrible things Bartimaeus is about to see.

And we, dear friends, we are invited to walk beside Bartimaeus this Lent.
I’d advise you to give the Zebedee lads a wide birth.
They’re not going to see what is really going on for some time yet.
But if we walk close to this son of Timaeus,
we’ll see more clearly.

Jesus asked James, John and Bartimaeus the same question:

What do you want me to do for you?

It’s a good question.

What do you want him to do for you?


Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

2 Responses to “What do you want me to do for you?”

  1. Jim

    Just read your blog as I prepare for my sermon this week. My summer sermon series is, Great Questions of the Bible and this week’s question is – What do you want me to do for you? I enjoyed your comments and thought they were spot-on and insightful. I am trying to formulate what might be a response to Jesus’ question. So far I have come up with the following:
    1 – Something we can’t do for ourselves
    2 – Something we really need
    3 – Something that will make a dramatic difference in our lives
    Blessings on you!

  2. Brian Walsh

    How about, “I want to see”. That pretty much covers it all. Thanks for your comment.


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