Sermon: “What Do You Want Me to Do for You?”

“What Do You Want Me to Do for You?”
Rev. Leah Lyman Waldron
Park Avenue Congregational Church, UCC
October 28, 2018

Jeremiah 31:7-9
For thus says the Lord:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
‘Save, O Lord, your people,
the remnant of Israel.’ 
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labour, together;
a great company, they shall return here. 
With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.

Mark 10:46-52
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

There are so many things I love about this scripture. The first is that nobody is following the rules. Bartimaeus, a blind man relegated to begging at the outskirts of town, figures out that Jesus is walking by and immediately starts shouting to get his attention, breaking right out of the humble, groveling role we so often expect those asking us for money to play. But he knows his worth, and he knows this is his chance, and he is not about to let anything get in the way of his encounter with Jesus.

Jesus, too, breaks the mold by stopping – literally “standing still” in a mob of moving people – and asking for Bartimaeus to come near when he easily could have ignored what I’m sure seemed like just another bystander clamoring for his attention. And then, instead of assuming that a blind man must of course want his eyesight restored – a trap I think many of us would have fallen into – Jesus honors the dignity of a man who has likely been pigeonholed by his condition for years by placing the ball squarely in his court: “What do you want me to do for you?”

It’s really an extraordinary moment; I imagine the entire crowd waiting, breathless, to hear Bartimaeus’ response, their attention focused completely on someone they, just minutes earlier, were trying to shut up.

I think that’s what’s really at the heart of this scripture. How often have we turned away from someone asking us for money? How often have we done our best to ignore someone who is breaking social convention and making us uncomfortable in a public space? How often have we failed to see how people living with disabilities and physical ailments are sidelined by a world set up for those among us who are able-bodied?

Yet Jesus seizes the moment to re-direct our attention right back where it belongs: to the human being in front of us, asking not merely for sight but to be seen. To be acknowledged and treated as a whole person, brought into the center and recognized as having just as many gifts for ministry as anyone.

Because – did you notice? – as soon as Bartimaeus is made well, he turns and follows Jesus on his way. The blind beggar on the roadside becomes, essentially, a disciple. No one would have blamed him if, like so many others on the receiving end of Jesus’ healings, he had simply faded quietly back into “regular” life. But no – not only does Bartimaeus know what he wants from Jesus, he knows who Jesus is. Calling him by the Messianic title “Son of David,” this blind man is the first to publicly “see” who Jesus is, and he is not about to miss his opportunity to draw near to him, to follow directly in the footsteps of the one who brings not just healing but wholeness.

Do we know who Jesus is? Do we know he’s the One who has everything we need and everything we deeply desire?

Do we know what we want from him? Do we have the chutzpah of Bartimaeus, to ask him for it – and the faith of Bartimaeus, to trust that he can give it to us?

When I was a child, I repeatedly heard adults in my life tell me I would make a good lawyer because I cared so much about things being fair, noticing who had been left out or whose feelings had been hurt. Well I skipped right over that first bit – being a lawyer – but the second bit stuck. Through my youngest adult years I thought my best quality and the most important thing I could do was to tackle issues of justice – to the point that I spent a summer in college training as a community organizer and chose my first jobs (well, stipended volunteer positions) based on whether they were sufficiently oriented towards equalizing the social and economic imbalances I saw all around me.

It turns out, though, that I hated community organizing and that activism made me feel tired and depressed. It took me awhile to realize that pastoral care, preaching, and helping communities grow spiritually – the things that lit me up – were enough. It took me awhile to hear Jesus’ question – “What do you want me to do for you?” – and to answer with what my heart really desired: a vocation of caring for God’s people spiritually instead of organizing marches or boycotts or community meetings.

(Of course I eventually realized these two weren’t mutually exclusive.)

When we are clear about what will bring us life, and that turning to the One who sees us with clarity and compassion is the best way to get it, it’s illuminating. Like our big all-church cleanout yesterday, asking Jesus for what we truly want is a way to clear out the cobwebs and time sucks in our lives: to focus not on what others want for us, but on the longings God has planted deeply within us.

And such clear vision is also what helps us to see others as whole, valuable human beings regardless of whether they navigate the world in the exact same way we do. Because it’s not until we embrace the holiness of our own desires that we can freely embrace others’, too – no matter how humble or how grand, no matter how much of a stretch they might seem to a bystander in the crowd.

The thing is, we have to be willing to be like Bartimaeus: to stop, and listen to the question Jesus is asking us. And that’s what I’d like to invite you to do this morning.

Please listen to the audio version of this sermon for a guided meditation on being in Jericho as Jesus goes by.