Year B Proper 25: What do you want?

“What do you want me to do for you?”

When I heard Jesus asking this of Bartimaeus, I was struck by the coincidence that two Sundays in a row we have heard basically the same question.

“What is it that you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked James and John last week. “What do you want me to do for you?” he now asks Bartimaeus, the bold blind man who will not be quelled by the crowd, who will be heard by the Son of David, the Messiah, who will use his faith to find his saviour.

It’s a really good question, because it goes to the heart of the matter. It is not a wish-fulfillment flannel – “What do you want most in the world?” It demands relationship, it demands discernment of the resources at hand, of what can be done, what should already have been done for ourselves, what might be: “What do you want ME to do for you?” asks Jesus.

I know a Christian physician who says that he uses this question to get to the heart of the visit that his patient makes to his office. The patient might have a million different concerns; but there is a reason that he has come to this doctor on this day. There is something that she thinks this person can do for her, which no one else can provide, and it is finding out what that thing is that can be a challenge, tuning in among all the static. Asking, “What is that you want ME to do for YOU?” can help both parties focus, and can help with the process of healing.

One of the aspects of wisdom that this physician had learned from Jesus was not to take for granted the insight that he already had into the other person’s needs. Bartimaeus is waiting by the side of the road for Jesus to pass by, and he calls out for mercy. Of course, we think, he wants his sight, he wants healing, and we are right. But Jesus has to ask, because he is not a mercy dispensing machine. This is about relationship. This is about what you need from me, what I need from you, specifically. It is about seeing the person in front of you.

When I was working my hospital chaplaincy internship, I learned to ask the question a little differently. I could sit in a patient’s room for an hour, listening to their stories, hearing their complaints, their pain and their sorrow. I could wrap it all into a prayer at the end, lifting to God the concerns I had heard; or I could ask, “What is it that you want Jesus to do for you? What do you want to pray about today?”

Pretty soon I learned that this was where the healing visit really began. A patient facing an arduous orthopaedic surgery really wanted to talk to God about her teenager, about his struggles, her fears for his safety, his sanity, his life. Another was afraid to go home. Yet another wanted God to get on and take her to heaven right now, where all of her loved ones already lived; they came to her in her dreams.

I learned to ask the question earlier in the visit, so that we could get to the point while I still had time to sit and listen as the patient finally and faithfully articulated just what it was they wanted Jesus to do for them.

So by now, if you are anything like me, you are sitting in your pew, lifting up items from your deepest needs and desires, weighing them and sorting them, deciding whether they rise to the level of what you want Jesus to do for you; whether you dare ask for them, or whether they are things you should have done already for yourself. In a crisis, it is easy to know what to ask.

“Jesus, my little daughter is at the point of death.” “Jesus, if you will, you can make me clean.” “Jesus, they have run out of wine.”

Some things are not ours to ask, as Jesus tried to tell James and John.

Others are things that Jesus has already done for us: “Save me!”

And so I want you to take a few moments now, if you feel safe doing so you may close your eyes, and see Jesus standing right in front of you, asking you, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

Do not listen to the voices of the crowd shouting you down. They don’t know what they are talking about; Jesus calls you to stand before him.

If you are so inclined, you may want to write something down. Otherwise, hold it in your heart.

“What is it that you want me to do for you?”

However you use this time, this prayer, this encounter with Jesus, I encourage you, as the week goes on, each time you pray to revisit that question, to spend a little time standing face to face with Jesus, who is asking, “What do you want me to do for you?”.

Take some time to find out what it means for your relationship with Jesus, to ask and to answer that fairly fundamental question honestly. To seek Christ’s company in the heart of your life, in your deepest needs and desire.

Do not be discouraged by the voices that would shout you down; persevere in prayer. Hear instead the shouts of encouragement:
“Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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