Answer Not Obvious

”What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51)

In today’s gospel, a blind man, Bartimaeus, is sitting by the roadside on the outskirts of Jericho when Jesus and a crowd pass by. As soon as Bartimaeus learns that it is Jesus, he cries out to him. He pays no attention when some sternly order him to shut up, but rather cries out all the louder.

When Jesus hears his cry, he invites the man to approach him. The crowd now encourages Bartimaeus. When he is in front of Jesus, Jesus asks him what he wants. Bartimaeus asks for his sight, receives it, and then follows Jesus as he continues on his way.

While Bartimaeus’s story is quickly told, some details in the account are noteworthy. His appeal is a form of the Jesus Prayer, described as a summary of the entire gospel in one sentence: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus’s cry from the roadside is not for his sight, which is what he wants most, but for mercy, which is what he needs most.

Though it is obvious Bartimaeus is blind, Jesus prods him to ask specifically for that favor as the expression of the mercy for which he had cried out. And the crowd’s resistance to Bartimaeus’s cry, and then its encouragement when Jesus calls for him, are almost irrelevant.

Especially noteworthy are the themes of the “companion” lessons from the Old Testament, for they are quite different yet equally applicable. One gives us punishment for sin and the other deliverance from sin’s consequences. The lesson from Isaiah in the BCP lectionary points out that moral “blindness ” results in great sufferin g for those who resist the clear will of God, with eventual divine judgment enacted against them. The lesson from Jeremiah in the RCL has the theme of deliverance from exile for “the remnant of Israel.” Putting this lesson in its historical context, the people of Israel had been sent into exile for their habitual sins and stubborn refusal to obey the will of God; deliverance is now at hand, but only for the faithful “remnant.” Even in exile there were many who persevered in their wickedness, and these are lost to Israel forever.

Jesus’ question to Bartimaeus, then — “What do you want me to do for you?” — is not an idle question at all. All knew the will of God; the question is what the faithful want to do about it.

Look it Up

Consider the lesson from Hebrews. The writer exhorts the readers of his letter to a certain course, though the lesson begins by noting that they have failed to pass beyond the stage of Christian “infancy.” To what does he call them? How does this call match the theme of the other lessons for today?

Think About It

What in your life puts you in the position of knowing God’s will, yet not wanting to do it? In such a situation, what do you really want?

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