Have you ever asked a question or been asked a question, and the answer changed the course of your life?
One that sticks out to me, one that’s changed the trajectory of my life perhaps more than any other, happened the September that I was 19 years old, about to enter my sophomore year of college. About a month before, I had been out mowing the front yard of the fraternity house where I lived. While I was mowing, my friend Jennifer, who was entering her senior year at our college, came over and said her younger sister, Amanda, was moving some things into the dorm early and wondered if I could help. I looked up, saw Amanda, and immediately said, “Yes. Definitely. Yes I can definitely do that.”
Fast forward a few weeks later. I had been an orientation leader for Freshman orientation, and had made several attempts to talk to Amanda, but felt every time like she was a little stand-offish toward me.
After orientation was over, my friend Dave and I had talked about wanting to go on a double date. We thought it would be fun, we made a plan to do a picnic in the park, play on the playground, a generally goofy kind of date. The problem was, neither of us had anyone to go with us on the date, so that kind of put a damper on the plan.
We strategized and talked about who we might like to ask if we could ask anybody on campus. The next day, my opportunity materialized as I was down by the pavilion by a sand volleyball court on campus, and Amanda was there sitting with some other people on a picnic table. I walked over and began some conversation.
In what can only be described as the single smoothest ask out attempt ever, I stumbled into an opening line of, “So, um, hypothetically, say you were a girl.” (Such a smooth opener! Surely she was hooked at this point!) “I AM a girl,” she said. “Actually, I’m a woman.”
“Ok,” I said. “So hypothetically, say you were a woman and I was a guy.” (Great job, Trav. Bravo. You’ve just made the fact that you’re a guy a “hypothetical” one. You’re so smooth.) “Would I be the type of guy you would go out on a date with?”
At this point, thankfully, the mercy of Amanda broke in, she interrupted the train wreck, and said, “Travis Garner! Are you trying to ask me out?”
I confidently responded, “No…Um…Well…Maybe?”
“Well how about I ask you?” she smiled back at me. “Travis Garner, will you go out with me?”
(Travis Garner for the win!)
And the rest, they say, is history. It was a risk, a question and an answer, that changed everything for me.
JAMES AND JOHN: DISCIPLES OR PRO WRESTLERS?
There are back to back stories in the Gospel of Mark (in chapter 10, to be exact) where Jesus asks a life-changing question. In the first story, there’s an exchange between two of the disciples, James and John, and Jesus, when they make a pretty bold request to Jesus.
James and John are brothers, they were the 3rd and 4th disciples Jesus asked to follow him, after Peter and Andrew. It says in the beginning of Mark’s Gospel that Jesus gave them the nickname “Sons of Thunder,” which maybe this has to do with my upbringing, but I can’t help but think of professional wrestlers when I hear that. I’m envisioning them on Saturday morning TV, eating Slim Jims, wearing sunglasses, and making the veins pop out of their necks as they talk.
This image, Sons of Thunder, actually fits them pretty well. In Luke chapter 9, right after Jesus has sent the disciples out in the same chapter, telling them to “proclaim the good news of the kingdom and heal the sick,” and right after he’s said to them, “if you want to follow me, you have to deny yourself and take up your cross,” there’s a little disagreement between the disciples and some people in a Samaritan village, and when James and John tell Jesus about it, they ask him, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
I can hear the wrestler announcer’s voice now, “The Sons of Thunder, calling down fire from heaven to destroy all who stand in their way, on Sunday, SUNDAY, Sunday!”
Perhaps they were just a tad impetuous, fervent, reactionary. Just a skosh.
So, in this story in Mark chapter 10, James and John have the nerve to come to Jesus and say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” Can you imagine saying that to Jesus? That’s pretty bold. Pretty daring.
Jesus, being the gracious Rabbi that he is, humors them, and asks them an amazing question, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Mark says, “They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’” Let one of us be your Secretary of Defense and one of us be your Secretary of State in your cabinet. They come by it honestly, in Matthew’s Gospel, it says their mom came to Jesus and made the same request on their behalf.
When Jesus gives James and John an opportunity to ask for anything they want to ask for, they ask for their own glory. They want to share in Jesus’ glory. If he gets to sit on a throne and if he gets to be magnified and glorified and worshiped, they want their due as the guys who sit right next to him.
A STARK CONTRAST: BARTIMAEUS
If you keep reading, in the very next story in Mark’s Gospel, we hear Jesus ask the same question. But there’s a pretty stark contrast in the answer. Here’s what the text says:
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
We don’t know much about Bartimaeus. “Bar” is the Hebrew word for “son,” and so his name literally means, son of Timaeus. What we do know about persons with disabilities living in the first century is that they were completely dependent on the care and nurture of the society around them. Given that Bartimaeus is blind and given that he’s begging on the street, it’s likely that he had no living family members to care for him. And so he probably sat by the road, day after day, hour after hour, doing everything he could just to make it through the day, completely dependent on the mercy of people passing by to take care of his needs.
But this day was different. They say when one of your senses is deficient, that the other senses become more attuned to your environment. Although Bartimaeus was blind, his sense of hearing was working just fine on this day.
And so while he was sitting by the roadside, begging like he did every day, something happened. He heard a large crowd approaching, and realizing that Jesus was in the crowd, he began shouting, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”
The people around him rebuked him. That’s an interesting word in the Gospels because it’s often used when Jesus is casting a demon or an evil spirit out of someone. To rebuke someone often meant that you thought they were possessed. And so they yell at him, probably kick at him, tell him to shut his mouth.
He doesn’t let that stop him, in fact he begins to yell even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” He’s yelling so loudly over the crowds that Jesus hears him, stops, and says, “Call him.”
I’ve sometimes wondered, what would have happened if Bartimaeus hadn’t yelled out to Jesus? Would Jesus have stopped? Would they have had this conversation? I wonder how many of us are unwilling to call out to God for help because we want the illusion of control or because we think we need to do it all on our own?
And so the same people who yelled at Bartimaeus a minute ago come back to him, a little more nicely this time, and say, “Cheer up! Get on your feet! He’s calling you!”
He throws his cloak, his only possession, aside, jumps to his feet, and comes to Jesus, and then Jesus asks him that same life-changing question: “What do you want me to do for you?”
It’s the same question Jesus had asked James and John just a few verses ago. In this moment, Bartimaeus had a decision to make. He could have asked Jesus for anything in this moment. James and John asked Jesus for their own glory. How often, in our own prayer life, are we more like James and John? How often, in prayer, are we asking only for things that might simply make us look better? “God, will you do this for me? God, if you do this for me, I promise I’ll do that for you.”
Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, could have asked for anything and been justified in his request. He could have asked for money. He could have asked for food or water. But instead, he thinks of the deepest need that he has. “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go.” Jesus says, “Your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and he began to follow Jesus on the road.
James and John asked for their own glory. Bartimaeus asked for something that would only give God glory. The only explanation for something of this magnitude is the wonder and power and grace of God. This is not a story of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, it’s not a story of self help or personal triumph or achievement. This is a story of recognizing and confessing who Jesus is.
Bartimaeus had been yelling out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” This is the first time anyone has called Jesus “Son of David” in the Gospel of Mark. When he yells those words, it’s more than just a family name that he’s yelling, he’s yelling a statement of faith. In the Old Testament, in the book of 2 Samuel, God says to King David, “When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you…I will establish his kingdom…I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever…I will be his father and he will be my son…Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me, your throne will be established forever.”
Son of David is a title for the expected Messiah, the promised one, the one who was to come and put all the broken pieces of the world back together.
What does it mean for someone like Bartimaeus to recognize who Jesus is? Throughout the Old Testament, in the psalms, and in the book of Isaiah in places like chapter 35, there are words like “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…he will come to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.”
When Bartimaeus yells “Son of David,” he’s saying, “I believe that you’re the Messiah, you’re the Son of God, you’re the promised one. And since you’re the promised one, I’m not asking you for bread, I’m asking you for something only you can do.”
This is a story of Bartimaeus recognizing and admitting his deep need for Jesus, and when he admits his deep need for Jesus, it opens him up to receive what only Jesus can give.
WHAT IF YOU ANSWERED THAT QUESTION?
If you can, imagine for a minute that it’s you sitting by the side of the road. You may not be blind in terms of sight, but everybody has had a blind spot in their life. Everybody has some form of “blindness” in their life. Some kind of problem that you can’t seem to fix. Some kind of issue or situation that you feel like you can’t change. Some place that you feel stuck that you can’t get out of on your own. Something that’s getting in the way of you being the person you believe God wants you to be and made you to be.
So imagine yourself stuck sitting by the side of the road. What’s keeping you there? Is it an addiction? Is it an illness or some kind of physical ailment? Is it a family problem? Is it a broken relationship? Is it a lack of faith? Is it a life of fear and doubt and anxiety? Are you ashamed of something from your past? Are you carrying a sense of guilt with you for something? What’s keeping you stuck?
Now imagine Jesus approaching you. Imagine him stopping and looking at you and asking this potentially life-altering question: “What do you want me to do for you?”
If Jesus asked you that question, and you were fully confident in his ability to do for you whatever you asked, what would you ask him to do for you? What’s stopping you from answering that question right now?
Stop and think about that for a minute. Isn’t it amazing that Jesus is asking that question to begin with? The one who was there for the creation of the world. The one in whom all things were made, the one with the ability and the power to do anything at all, is asking you, “What do you want me to do for you?”
I know many of us are unwilling to answer that question because we think we can do it on our own. Many of us don’t answer because we don’t want to admit that we can’t do it on our own. Many of us don’t answer because we want to be completely in control of the situation, and we know that when we give anything into the hands of God, the control is no longer ours.
But what if you just took a risk and answered that question right now? What if you answered that question from your place of deepest need? What if you didn’t gloss over it? What if you didn’t give a surface level answer?
Maybe God will change you. Maybe God will heal you. Maybe God will simply change the situation through you. I don’t know what will happen as a result of you sharing your deepest need with Jesus in response to that question, but I do know this: when you share yourself, when you share your deepest needs, when you bare your heart and your soul to God, it opens you up to the work of God’s grace in your life in new and profound ways.
“What do you want me to do for you?” asks Jesus. What if you really answered that question?