Two Rivers Pastoral Charge
Sunday October 28, 2018
Scripture: Mark 10:46-52
So who here likes helping other people out? I know that I do! And how do you feel when you help out a friend or a neighbour or a family member? How does it feel when you lend a hand to others? It feels pretty good – we get a bit of a boost when we help others out. I know that I’ve only been here for a couple of months now, but my impression of Two Rivers Pastoral Charge is that it is full of people who like helping out other people.
Now what about the flip side of the coin? How does it feel when we help someone out, and maybe they don’t react the way we expect or want them to? Maybe we think that they aren’t sufficiently grateful; maybe it seems like they keep asking for more and more; maybe they ask for something other than what we have offered. Not quite as good of a feeling, is it.
I remember one time when I was working in Tanzania (in East Africa) as a physiotherapist and I ran up against this. I was working with a young man who had had a stroke. His left arm and leg were paralyzed, and we were working on helping him get his independence back in whatever way he could. But one day I went in to his hospital room and found his wife spoon-feeding him his lunch.
I remember feeling really upset at this. He had no problems with his right arm or hand so surely he could be eating by himself! After all, weren’t we working to try and help him to become more independent?!
I remember leaving his room, and going into the nurses station, and ranting to one of the doctors who was there, Dr. Lukiko. Fortunately Dr. Lukiko is a very patient person, and he heard me out, and then gently suggested to me that for his wife, this was one of the only ways she had in that moment of expressing her love.
It was a situation where my cultural values were promoting independence, but the cultural values of the place where I was living promoted interdependence and community. I thought that I was helping out, but I wasn’t really listening for what was actually wanted by the people I thought that I was helping.
In today’s reading from Mark’s gospel, we find Jesus, a healer, traveling along the road. He, and his disciples, and a large crowd are leaving the town of Jericho, close to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, and they are beginning the uphill journey along a road with a dangerous reputation to reach Jerusalem. When they get to Jerusalem, in the verse immediately following the passage that we read today, they will be entering the city in a triumphant procession that we remember every year on Palm Sunday, and only a few days later Jesus will be nailed to a cross in the story that we remember every year on Good Friday. We’re getting close to the end of Jesus’ story.
But that is all in the days ahead. In our story today, Jesus and his followers are just setting out from Jericho. And as they are leaving, a man named Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Now Jesus doesn’t keep on walking. He doesn’t say, “Hurry up, we have a dangerous road to walk and we can’t lose any time!” He doesn’t just wave his hand and restore Bartimaeus’ vision and keep on walking. No, Jesus stops and he asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus doesn’t assume that he knows what Bartimaeus wants. Maybe Bartimaeus was seeking healing for his mother or father or daughter. Maybe Bartimaeus wanted to share some food with Jesus. Maybe Bartimaeus wanted to know that he was loved by God. And so Jesus stops and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”
What a question this is for us to ponder. This question gives is so many different invitations. On one level, it invites us to hear Jesus asking us the same question. “What do you want me to do for you?” If we open our hearts, if we look deeply into ourselves, what do we really want from God? Do we dare to name the thing that we most deeply desire?
On another level, I wonder what would happen if the world could slow down and start listening to one another. What if the world could start asking, “What do you want me to do for you?” and then really listen to the answers.
One of the stories that’s been in the news this week is about a caravan of people traveling north from Central America; and the immediate reaction of the country to the north has been to try and stop them, by any means possible, from crossing the border. I wonder what would happen if the question could be asked, “What do you want us to do for you? How do you want us to help you? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the answer was not the expected one. Instead of looking for a new place to live, most refugees would prefer that the conditions could change so that they could stay at home.
Three years ago, when the media was flooded with pictures of refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean Sea in overcrowded and dangerous boats, and the picture of the body of a toddler named Alan Kurdi washed up on a beach had inspired grief and outrage around the world, when all of this was happening, a Somali-British poet named Warsan Shire wrote a poem called “Home” about the refugee experience. In it, she says,
“you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.”
What do you want us to do for you? How can we help you?
But closer to home, I think that this question also invites us to consider how we, as the church, interact with the world. If we, as the church, are the body of Christ, I think that we are invited to ask this same question to the community around us. If we were to ask the communities around us, “What do you want us, what do you want the church, what do you want the Body of Christ to do for you?” – if we were to ask this question of the communities around us, I wonder what sort of answer we would hear.
One of the things about Jesus’ ministry is that he never put any conditions on it. If you were to read Mark’s gospel from beginning to end, you would never see Jesus making discipleship a condition of healing. You will never hear Jesus saying, “Yes, I will heal you, but only if you promise to follow me.” Some people, after being healed, decided to follow Jesus the way that Bartimaeus did in today’s reading; but other people didn’t. It didn’t matter – Jesus healed them anyways, unconditionally.
And so I hear this story as a challenge to the church around the world. Do we dare to ask the community around us, “What do you want us to do for you?” Do we dare to ask this question, being willing to hear whatever the answer might be? Do we dare to ask this question, knowing that the answer might be different than what we think? Do we dare to ask this question as Jesus did, unconditionally, prepared to serve without expecting anything in return?
What do you want me to do for you?
Let us pray:
Holy, holy, holy God,
Help us to open our hearts to your love.
Help us to hear you asking us,
“What do you want me to do for you?”
Help us to look deeply into our hearts
so that we can see beyond pretence,
beyond the mask that we put on for the world,
and help us to truly see that which we are asking for.
And even as we are answering the question,
help us to be open to asking the question.
Give us the courage to ask the world around us,
“What do you want us to do for you?”
Blow your Holy Spirit through us
so that we can truly be the Body of Christ
acting in the world;
Inspire us by your Holy Spirit
so that we can ask the question,
and listen deeply to the answers that we hear.
Transform us, by your Holy Spirit,
so that we might be more like Christ.
We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ,
the one in whose name we are called.