I’ve got to see her, I’ve got to! Even through my closed door, the incessant demand, vaguely distracting at first, finally caught my attention as the volume increased. In the quiet pauses between his shouting, no doubt my delightful assistant (who could morph into a dragon at need) was dutifully trying to explain my door was closed for a reason – a good reason. Surely he knew I was putting the finishing touches to a bid before heading to the airport and meeting that could affect his fate and a lot of other people’s too. If I failed, he and most of our faithful employees were going to be out of a job. Not normally so curt, when Sid barged in and started blathering on about this and that, I cut to the bottom line as I put on my coat, picked up my bags and walked to the elevator, saying What do you want me to do for you? Quick, I’ve got a cab waiting. Silence. Following me into the elevator, I said, OK, you have fourteen floors to figure out and tell me. Obviously disgruntled, he wittered on about so-and-so who had upset him, then someone else – complaining about everyone and everything, instead of answering my question.This is going to have to wait until I return I said climbing into the cab, my head spinning as it sped away, still wondering what he wanted, and what in the past few day’s frantic activity and all-nighter we had just pulled to complete the proposal for work that would either make or break the company – what in all that heroic, do or die effort had he not grasped? Having got my ear, other than a long litany of complaints, why couldn’t tell me what he wanted? Didn’t he know or was he reluctant to name it? Was he too ashamed to ask, or just anxious, along with all the rest of us, so simply needing reassurance? Did he want to push his private agenda, hoping to get one over on any rivals and be named in a key role if we won the contract, or perhaps negotiate a sweet deal for himself if we lost? Who knows? I certainly didn’t, and truth be told, maybe he didn’t either.
What do you want me to do for you? asked Jesus. Blind Bartimaeus knew exactly what he wanted and had his answer ready: Lord, let me see again. When Jesus had asked James and John the same question earlier, they said they wanted to sit beside him when he came into his glory, but did they really understand what that meant or would entail? Bartimaeus certainly knew what he was asking for – apparently he had been able to see at one time, so asked for his sight back, because it was the key to everything: the chance to have his job back instead of having to beg, the joy of being able to resume a normal family life instead of being banished as an outcast, and shunned by his community for being ‘unclean’. He had a lot at stake – a lot hinged on his being restored to wholeness and health, and he knew it, so he would not be put off by those who tried to shut him up, shouting even more loudly Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.
If you listen carefully to the text, it is a beautifully crafted duet – with Bartimaeus crying out above the loud chorus of objections, calling Jesus Son of David – a title the crowd picks up on as Jesus enters Jerusalem. Miraculously, Jesus responds, calling Bartimaeus. Other voices echo that call, encouraging him, but it is his faith that draws him to Jesus and inspires him to follow Jesus once his sight is restored. After years of pain and rejection Bartimaeus found healing through Jesus, yet it’s interesting that Jesus said … your faith has made you well, or put another way, your faith has saved you and made you whole. In Mark’s Gospel, while so many people, including the disciples, seemed blind to who and what Jesus was, ‘outsiders’ like Bartimaeus were often the ones blessed with sufficient spiritual insight to see the truth, and just in case we missed it too, his final miracle en route to Jerusalem highlights the joy of seeing what Jesus can do for us, the joy of a faith that helps overcome obstacles, the joy of Christ’s call in response to our cries for help, inviting us to follow his way, sometimes calling us out of ourselves, like James and John, by offering our lives greater purpose, explaining service beats selfishness or aggrandizement, and showing us the greatness of God – so enlarging our vision of what is possible, widening our horizons and redefining the scope of the Good News by spreading it wide to include everyone.
Apparently Jesus often asked folk what they wanted him to do for them, but not all of them walked away feeling happy either because they did not really know what they were asking for, got more than they bargained on, or because the route to lasting happiness that they longed for involved something they didn’t want to do, or give up. Take the young rich man – a respectable, religious and sincere guy who wanted to follow Jesus but, sadly, couldn’t give up the things that he realized were holding him back.
At times maybe we are unsure what we really want, so we settle for a substitute that temporarily dulls whatever we are really longing for – like buying a new outfit that may lift our spirits, but fails to satisfy some deeper longing to feel good about ourselves. And which one of us hasn’t reached for something in the fridge out of boredom, or need for a break, rather than genuine hunger? At work, I used to cruise the snack box, or go in search of fancy coffee to relieve the stress or tedium of long days, or as an excuse to go on walk-about when what the body really craved was a stretch and a bit of exercise.
It can be like that with prayer, when we skirt around the issue and rattle on rather than get to the heart of the matter. Interestingly, the simplest form of the Jesus Prayer which Eastern Orthodox and contemplative Christians use almost like a mantra, repeats what Bartimaeus said – Jesus, have mercy on me. That’s it! But said with thought and sincerity, or by making us think when we repeat it, those words can carry our deepest needs to Christ, who I believe does have mercy on us – oh, not like a genie, granting our every whim, or gradually working through our wish list, but as the great high priest who intercedes for us constantly, always present, patiently waiting, asking us What do you want me to do for you? If, like James and John, we ask for something selfish or perhaps superficial what would happen if we got it? If, like Bartimaeus, we ask for something that could help us pick up the pieces, welcome new possibilities, or simply cope, what would it be? Faith, hope or love perhaps? How about courage and confidence when a cure isn’t at hand, or patience and persistence rather than an instant solution to problems we need time to work through?
I bumped into Sid, (which isn’t his real name) at a celebration of life for an old colleague who had led a full and fascinating life, but had his priorities and always put family and friends first. Sid made a bee-line for me at the reception, scattering folk like skittles in his wake. I asked him if he was happy, Not really he admitted, reeling off his latest list of complaints. What would make you happy? I asked. Wish I knew he shrugged. What do you want? I persisted. Well, that’s the trouble he said, I don’t know! Sorry, I said, seems like a sore subject (and action replay I thought). Maybe I’d better bug someone else. No, don’t go, he cried, blocking my escape. Was his panic a sign of loneliness, the kind I too feel at large gatherings? Had I finally figured out he just wanted someone to talk to, someone to listen – a friend? Maybe that’s all he’d ever wanted, if only he knew it. What do you want me to do for you? asks Jesus. What do you say?