‘What do you want me to do for you?’

Jesus put this question to two very different parties, as recorded in Mark 10:35-52. Mark and Matthew narrate those incidents in straight succession. But those questioned each received quite different answers. Jesus granted the second request with an immediate public miracle. But the previous request concerned rewards in the far-off future, about which he could make no certain promise in any such detail. Pondering both scenarios will shed helpful light into our own prayer life.

            Bartimaeus, a rank outsider (Mark 10:46-52)

All three synoptic Gospels tell this story, but with minor variations. Matthew 20:30 mentions ‘two blind men’; Luke 18:35, it has been suggested, ‘single[s] out the more vocal of the pair’; as does Mark 10:46, who tells us his name and its meaning (‘son of Timaeus’). Is his father now dead, or did he disown him for the ‘curse’ of his blindness? For whatever reason, he’s outside Jericho’s city walls begging for a living. Although Jesus seems never to have visited there before, the beggar has heard of him. So, on learning why the crowd of Passover pilgrims were more animated than usual, ‘he began to cry out’, ‘Son of David’ (Jesus, too, had a family ancestry) ‘have mercy on me,’ he kept calling out in this general cry for help. Although the crowd told him to be quiet, the Lord heard his cry, ‘stopped’ and asked those nearby to ‘call him’. How intriguing that Jesus did so indirectly. Was he preparing them to become miracle-expectant? ‘And they say: ‘“Take heart … he is calling you,”’ showing a complete change in their attitude. And we too can experience such a corporate surge of faith when bringing the infirmed to Jesus.

Only Mark tells us that ‘he sprang up’ when he ‘came to Jesus’. And all three Gospel accounts inform us of Jesus’ vital question that a casual reader might think is a ‘no-brainer’: What do you want me to do for you? Would a pension be enough to save him from his life of begging? Or appointing a carer? But Bartimaeus goes to the root of his problem, his blindness. And James pointed out for us: ‘You do not have, because you do not ask’ (James 4:2). And it would be very unwise of us not to ask whenever we sense corporately that our Lord is putting that question to us specifically.

            James and John in Jesus’ ‘inner circle’ (Mark 10:35-45)

The brothers were close to their Master (see Mark 1:19-20, 29; 3:16-17; 5:37; 9:2). They had just heard Jesus refer to his betrayal, death and resurrection (Mark 10:32-34) for the third time (Mark 8:31-33; 9:30-32); and this time he specified the venue, ‘Jerusalem’ where ‘we are going’. So James and John hurried to ask a huge favour (urged on by their vocal mother, Matthew 20:20 – Jesus answered all three of them with a  plural ‘you’, 20:22-23). When the brothers ‘came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you” … he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?”’

We must not suppose that the brothers simply wanted to recline at table on either side of their Master; ‘the ten’ would hardly ‘be indignant at’ them for requesting an abiding ‘inner circle’ status. Instead, they asked to sit enthroned ‘in your glory,’ for he had already promised them all: ‘in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne,’ and ‘you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’, if they continued to put his claims above family and possessions (Matthew 19:28-29) – sharing his ‘cup’ and his ‘baptism’.

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