TITLE: What Should Jesus Do for You? SCRIPTURE: Mark 10:46-52
"What do you want me to do for you?" That reminded me of a story about three men -- an Englishman, a Frenchman, and a Russian -- who came across a bottle on a beach. When they picked it up and rubbed it, a genie popped out and said, "I'll grant each of you one wish. What will it be?"
The Englishman thought for a moment, and then said, "I'd like a beautiful castle."
The Frenchman said, "I'd like a beautiful woman."
The Russian said, "I'd like my neighbor's potato crop to fail."
If someone were to ask, "What do you want me to do for you?" how would you answer? It would probably depend on who was asking.
If it were your boss, you might ask for a raise -- or a promotion -- or a new computer -- or a comfortable desk chair -- or a corner office -- or a parking space -- or a bonus.
If it were your father, you might ask for the keys to the car -- or a car of your own -- or an increase in your allowance. Or you might ask your dad to spend some time with you-- a fishing trip or an afternoon at the ball park -- time to share with dad and dad alone.
If it were your teacher, you might ask for a little help -- or a passing grade.
In any event, our answer to that question -- "What do you want me to do for you?" -- would tell us something about ourselves. It would tell us what we think is really important. It would tell us what we think would save us.
When I was in seminary many years ago, I read a book by P.T. Forsyth, who said that the content of our preaching would be determined by our understanding of salvation. In other words, preachers decide what it means to be saved, and then they preach to that.
We talked about that in class. In those days, Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr. were both in the news. They were both preachers -- but they preached very different messages. The differences in their preaching reflected their different understandings of salvation.
- Billy Graham conceived of salvation as an individual experience based on the person's acceptance of Christ. He believed that the person who accepted Christ would be saved -- and so that is what he preached. He emphasized making a decision for Christ and receiving salvation.
So if Jesus had asked Billy Graham, "What do you want me to do for you?" Graham would have said, "Help me to win people to Jesus Christ."
- Martin Luther King conceived of salvation as something quite different. He worked to bring an end to racial discrimination. His preaching gave people a vision of "a day when people (would) not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." His preaching focused less on the individual and more on the community.
So if Jesus had asked Martin Luther King, Jr., "What do you want me to do for you?" King would have answered, "Help me to convince people to treat each other with love and respect."
Our professor asked us which one we thought was right -- Billy Graham or Martin Luther King, Jr. I was torn, because I thought both were right. It was like asking a carpenter which tool is better -- a hammer or a saw. The carpenter would answer, "It depends on what you are trying to do!" But the real answer is that the carpenter needs both. You can't be a carpenter without a hammer, and you can't be a carpenter without a saw either. In like manner, the church in America needed both Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr. They preached very different messages, but were both telling truths that we needed to hear.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus asked that question, "What do you want me to do for you?" on two different occasions.
On the first occasion, James and John came asking a favor. Jesus asked, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." (10:36-37). In other words, they wanted Jesus to give them power. They wanted to be better than everyone else. They wanted everyone to look up to them. For James and John, having power and prestige was everything. That was their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Later, a blind man sitting by the side of the road called out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (10:47). Jesus asked, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man asked, "Let me see again." (10:51). Being able to see was what was really important to the blind man.
Whenever I read this story, I think, "What do you think he wants you to do for him, Jesus? He wants to be able to see -- can't you see that?" The answer, of course, is that Jesus knew exactly what this man wanted. Jesus also knew exactly what James and John wanted. But he required them to put it into words -- to ask.
What the blind man asked was quite different from what James and John asked. The blind man asked not to be seen, but to see -- not for honor, but for vision -- not to be superior to ordinary people, but to become ordinary himself -- not to rule over others, but to join others in their experience of a normal life.
When James and John asked to sit at the head of the table with him, Jesus said, "To sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant" (10:40). But when the blind man asked Jesus for his sight, Jesus said, "Go, your faith has made you well" (10:52). The New Testament was written originally in Greek. It would be perfectly correct to translate Jesus' words, "Go, your faith has saved you."
If Jesus were to ask today, "What do you want me to do for you?" how would you answer? Think about that for a minute. It is a really profound question, because it drills down to the depth of our souls. It asks what we believe is truly important. It asks what we think it would take to save us.
When I was fifteen years old (keep in mind that this was a long time ago), I would likely have answered, "I want a '55 Chevy V8 convertible with PowerPack -- red and white, please." I have to admit that the thought of owning a '55 Chevy convertible still sounds pretty good to me. A few years ago, my son and I were talking about cars, and I said, "If I had all the money in the world, I would buy myself a 1955 Chevy convertible" -- and then I added, "Red and white." A few months later, at Christmas, my son gave me a 1955 Chevy convertible -- red and white. It was a model car -- a really nice model -- about twelve inches long. The doors open and close -- the front wheels turn when you move the steering wheel -- and the front seats fold forward so passengers can get in the back. It even has a V8 with PowerPack -- you can tell by the dual tailpipes underneath. That car occupies a place of honor in my office. I have received many thoughtful gifts from my family, but that one was extra special.
I'm glad that Jesus didn't answer my prayer for a '55 Chevy convertible -- at least not right away. I would have killed myself in a car like that -- and my friends too. I'm much better off having a model car in my old age than having the real thing as a teenager.
As I reflect on it, my prayers were answered -- just LATER than I wanted -- and DIFFERENTLY than I wanted -- but, as I can see now, BETTER than I wanted. That has happened to me many times. I have frequently been denied something that I really wanted. In many cases, I now pray, "Thank you, God, for your mercy! Thank you for denying me something that would have been bad for me."
What do you want from Jesus? What would Jesus need to do to save you? Would he need to give you a new car -- or a house -- or a job -- or someone to love? Consider that carefully. It's an important question. What do you want from Jesus? It's a question that probes to the depths of our souls.
My teenage prayer for a '55 Chevy was like the request of James and John that Jesus would elevate them above ordinary people. That's what I wanted. I wanted the other kids to see me driving a new convertible so that they would think I was really cool. I wanted to be better than the rest. Like James and John, I wanted to be honored and envied.
But what we really need is what blind Bartimaeus wanted. We need Jesus to help us see -- to see the blessings that we enjoy right now -- to see the challenges and opportunities that lie before us -- to see the worthwhile lives that we can live by serving Christ and neighbor -- to see the person at our doorstep who desperately needs our help.
My prayer for us is that Christ will grant us -- not necessarily what we want -- but what we need -- that Christ will bless us in ways even better than we have dared to dream. My prayer for us is that we might enjoy the full salvation of body, mind, and soul that Jesus lived and died to give us.
And my prayer for you is that Christ will grant you the CLEAR VISION to see the blessings at your feet -- and that Christ will grant you the kind of JOY that Bartimaeus experienced when Jesus restored his sight -- great joy -- leaping, shouting joy! And may you, like Bartimaeus, respond by following Jesus faithfully on the road. Amen.
Amazing Grace (BH #330; CH #546; CO #447; CP #352; ELW #779; GC #612; JS #460; LBW #448; LSB #744; LW #509; PH #280; TH #671; TNCH #547, 548; UMH #378; VU #266; WR #422)
My Faith Looks Up to Thee (BH #416; CH #576; CP #551; ELW #759; LBW #479; LSB #702; LW #378; PH #383; TH #691; UMH #452; VU #663; WR #419)
Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior (BH #308; TNCH #551; UMH #351; VU #665)
Open My Eyes (BH #502; CH #586; JS #448; PH #324; UMH #454; VU #371; WR #480) JS #448 is a different hymn, but is appropriate for the same reasons as the other hymn.
HYMN STORY: There's a Wideness in God's Mercy
The author of this hymn, Frederick William Faber, was raised as a Huguenot, but went to Oxford and was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1837. He then came to know John Henry Newman, the famous Catholic priest (and later Cardinal). Under Newman's influence, Faber was re-baptized and re-ordained as a Catholic priest.
Faber was an admirer of good poetry, and became good friends with the poet, William Wordsworth. The two of them would often take long walks together in the mountains.
Knowing the power of hymns in the Protestant tradition, Faber wanted to make hymn-singing more important in the Catholic tradition. He wrote a number of hymns, of which this and "Faith of Our Fathers" are the best known today.
"There's a Wideness in God's Mercy" celebrates the wideness of God's mercy -- "like the wideness of the sea." It celebrates God's welcome for the sinner and the "good" person alike. It reminds us that "the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind" -- and therefore encourages us to broaden the measure of our own love so that it might be more like God's love. And, finally, it calls us to "rest upon God's word" so that "our lives (might be) illumined by the presence of our Lord."