The opening of today’s reading is the third of Jesus’ teachings about what kind of Messiah he is…
He is the kind of messiah who will face indignities and death
He is the kind of messiah who serves others.
He is the kind of messiah who expects his followers to do likewise
All the works and miracles he has done up to this point, and will do as they continue on toward Jerusalem, is the cause of the disdain and mistrust that will lead to his torture and death. And eventually his resurrection. All of which sets the stage for redemption.
But the message for his disciples is this… the earthly consequences of his ministry are real and they are imminent.
You see, Jesus is challenging the status quo -in the form of the religious and civic authorities – who do not show concern, much less care for the sick, poor or vulnerable. Jesus is challenging – AGAIN – those who would call themselves followers to become aware of the people around them, the consequences of the way things are, the consequences of how the law has been taught and has been observed.
Not only are they to begin serving those who are last, but by doing so they are to agitate and seek changes in the structures that allow for poverty and for the oppression and exclusion of the least of these to continue.
Now, we don’t have to rewind the story of our own culture’s responses to oppression, poverty and exclusion very far – perhaps not at all – to see how well those who are in authority respond to oppressed groups who rise up to challenge unjust treatment.
But here is Jesus, wading into the crowds of marginalized… sometimes even criminalized… people, loving, touching, healing, teaching, forgiving them.
Setting them free.
Making them whole.
Jesus is going on ahead of his friends and the others on the way, both literally and figuratively.
He will go before them as a leader and guide on the road. And he will go before them to death. And on to resurrection. Just as John the Baptist was to Jesus, Jesus now becomes the forerunner, calling out to those coming on the way, describing what is to come… life as is should be in the Kingdom of God, in the post-resurrection world.
The people following him, watching and listening as he goes, are amazed. They are also frightened.
They know he is calling attention to himself, but he is also calling attention to all of them, which is not necessarily good in their political climate. The stakes are high here on this earthly plain. But they are even higher when considered in light of Jesus’ divine identity – the Christ.
The Son of Man.
The Son of David.
The question Jesus asks of James and John, “What is it you want me to do for you?” gives them a chance to show what they’ve learned. But it reveals that they aren’t really getting it.
They seem to be expecting a royal coronation, a place to sit in power next to Jesus during his Messianic reign. Do you just wonder… What kind of glory are their imaginations conjuring? What do they expect to gain as major players or courtiers? And do they really want to drink the cup Jesus will drink? Or undergo the baptism he will?
Three times, Jesus has told them that to follow him means to be surrendered to the idea of putting your own life aside for the love of God and the love of neighbor.
Let me be clear here – Jesus is not calling everyone to a martyr’s death. Even if he is letting James and John know that they might well face a death like his. Jesus is reminding them and the others – AGAIN – that the way of Jesus is the way of sacrifice, the way of placing others’ gain ahead of your own, the way of lifting others up, even as you step back or step down.
I wonder, sometimes, if you get tired of hearing me say some of this…
I can almost hear you thinking… That Laura, she just can’t seem to get unstuck! Week after week, she talks about serving others, loving neighbors, caring for people who can’t or don’t take care of themselves.
Honest to Pete, I keep looking for the other stuff. But as long as we hang around in gospels, I have no choice but to talk to you about this good news:
That the last will be first and the first, last.
Which isn’t always good news for those of us who are already in a pretty good place,
who have enough, if not a huge abundance.
Because we are the ones God calls upon to make sacrifices
because we are the ones God has blessed
to be a blessing to those around us,
to do justice, and to love kindness,
to be people of mercy and grace.
Do you remember what question Jesus asked of Bartimaeus?
It was the same one he asked of James and John. But the blind man came looking for something very different. When he heard that Jesus was on his way out of Jericho, he knew this was his chance. He called out to Jesus – calling him Son of David… You remember Solomon, the son of David, the one who was wise. In addition to his wisdom, Solomon was said to have healing power…
Blind Bartimaeus calls out – “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Of course everyone was shushing him… but he was having none of it. And when Jesus called him over, he sprang right up!
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.
What did he want?
He wanted God, in the form of this healer, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, to shower him with grace.
He wanted to be restored – to have the opportunity to live.
He wanted to be whole.
Bartimaeus wanted to be someone besides “The Blind Man.” And so he says, “I want to see again!”
Back in chapter 8, Jesus healed a blind man. They were in Bethsaida and a group of people brought a blind man to Jesus, begging him to touch the man. This is when Jesus led the man away from the village, and rubbed saliva on the man’s eyes. When Jesus asked if he could see anything, he said that the people looked like trees walking. When Jesus laid his hands on the man again, his sight was fully restored – everything was made clear. It was not much later that Jesus offered the first glimpse of his future to the disciples, the first time he foreshadowed his death as a key part of his Messianic role.
Some of you know that my husband P has been recovering from eye surgery. He went in on Ash Wednesday, for Dr. C to do a procedure on his right eye. When we went for follow up the next day, things were not as they should be. Instead of seeing letters on the wall or fingers on hands, everything had been reduced to big blobs of light.
I would have felt better if P had said we looked like walking trees.
Dr. C had P come back in for round two, and this time, the graft started doing its work right away. Every day his vision gets a little clearer. Every day he gains a little more distance, a little more detail.
All of this started, though, with an appointment, in which Doctor C described the problem with P’s eye, listed off treatment options and asked a question very similar to Jesus’:
What do you want me to do?
Paul wanted to see again.
Much like Bartimaeus.
The doctor didn’t have to ask when the first surgery didn’t take. He already knew. So he said, let’s do it again. And if, God forbid, it hadn’t worked the second time, we’d have been back for a third try
Jesus knows that James and John, Peter and Thomas, Matthew… all of the other men and women who have dropped their nets, their ledgers, their livelihoods and homes to follow him did so because they wanted to see the truth. They set out to see what God was doing through this rabbi who had become more than a teacher and who had knit them together as friends and then family..
And so as the time nears for his final acts on Earth, he wants them to see the whole picture, the fullness of what God’s love for them, for all people, was bringing to fruition. So he tells them. And when it doesn’t take, he tells them again. And now, a third time, he tells them again.
When he asks them “what is it you want me to do for you?” he is already headed to Jerusalem to do everything for them.
To give everything for them
To give everything for us.
I wonder sometimes. If we had a chance to answer… What would we want Jesus to do for us
Not the Sunday School or “The pastor is in the room” answer.
The really real answer… what do you really want God to do for you?
And while we’re at it…
What do we really want God to do for this church?
For this neighborhood?
For the world?
More importantly – are we willing to ask the same question of Jesus:
Lord, what is it that you want me to do for you?
How do you want us to serve this community?
I’m pretty certain the answer will flow out of this truth…
Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served— and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.
Oh that we, like Bartimaeus, might regain our sight, rejoice and follow in your way.