October 18, 2021
Last Sunday Jesus asked James and John a question: “What do you wish me to do for you?” In response, they asked for seats at his right and his left when he comes in glory. Jesus had just finished telling the disciples that he was to go to Jerusalem where he would suffer and die before rising on the third day. In response to news of Jesus’ impending death, James and John ask for seats of glory. (It is worth pointing out that the other ten disciples are no better. The gospel tells us that “they became indignant at James and John,” for they wanted these seats themselves!) This story provides another example of how the disciples do not understand what it means to follow Jesus “on the way.” This is the way of discipleship; this is the way of the cross; this is the way of service and sacrifice. He tries to teach them that it is about dying to oneself, about becoming the least, and choosing to be the servant of all, but they do not understand. They also do not understand that following “the way” of dying to self, of becoming the least, and choosing to be the servant of all, means that they will have to trust that these sacrifices, on their part, will not lead to diminishment, but to a fulfilled life. This is something that they struggle to “see.” They find it difficult to put their trust in Jesus.
The gospel story today picks up from last Sunday. Interestingly, as Jesus encounters the blind man, Bartimaeus, Jesus asks a similar question to the one he asked James and John: “What do you want me to do for you?” In contrast to the disciples, this blind man does not ask for glory, but for sight. In Mark’s gospel seeing is, of course, an image for having faith and trust in Jesus. Jesus is moved by the response of this rather insignificant person: “Go on your way; your faith has saved you.” Jesus recognizes that this man trusts in him in the way the disciples do not. In fact, Mark as the narrator of the gospel tells us that this man is INDEED A TRUE DISCIPLE because he ends the story by saying that Bartimaeus “followed him on the way.”
As we continue to reflect on this gospel passage, we might ponder what answer we would give if Jesus asked: “What do you want me to do for you?” Would we blindly ask for the wealth and comfort of a material life in which we can place our trust, or might we have insight, asking for an increase in faith in Jesus and his way of service and sacrifice? In light of our choices, would Mark write about us: “And he/she followed him on the way?”