“What do you want me to do for you?” I don’t know how many hours I’ve gotten lost in this scene from tonight’s Gospel over the years. Imagining Jesus standing before me asking that pivotal question that He puts to Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” It’s one of my favorite scenes in the entirety of scripture. Put yourself into the scene: Jesus – The one who fed thousands from a few loaves and fish… the one who made a deaf man with a speech impediment completely whole by healing those disabilities with His touch and His word… the one who casts out demons… the one who raises the dead back to life… it’s wild to imagine that same Jesus asking you or me, “What do you want me to do for you?” – what do I ask for?
Thanks so much for stopping by to read this, my homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time -October 24, 2021, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim
My daily prayer list comes to mind. Every day my top 5 intentions that I pray for, several times a day: first for all of you – the students of MSU, the people I’m called to serve as a priest; second for those I serve with all the people I minister with in some way; third for my family and friends; fourth for my enemies (it used to be that God would ‘take care of them’ and I would make that like God choice as to what that meant – now it’s that they wouldn’t be an enemy to me) fifth for all those who’ve died and I run through my list of family and friends…
Then Jesus reminds me he’s being more intentional and more personal – “What do you want me to do for you?” Then the list of wild extremes pop up in my head: There are silly worldly things that I’m convinced I will use to the greatest potential like when going to buy that Powerball ticket… There are the self-centered things like wanting to be the most successful priest (and having my own criteria of what that means being fulfilled)… There are what I might characterize as noble-ego asks – people who’ve asked me for prayers that are sick, that are dying that I want to experience a miracle as a result of my asking through my ministry…
Probably not surprising none of those requests have been answered. I’m not disappointed about that, to be honest. I’m more embarrassed that those things still run through my head – that here I am a priest of close to 22 years and that those things are still there. That my pride and ego would still be working to somehow twist even what is so beautiful and precious that Jesus has called me to be His priest and that when I hear Jesus asking me this question, “What do you want me to do for you” I have to swat those like a bee that’s still buzzing around. I have a lot of answers that I know are bad. But part of the problem is I don’t have an answer – the answer to that question, at least I don’t think I do?
That’s what makes Bartimaeus and this whole encounter so impactful. In scripture, in the Gospels the details that are given and those that aren’t given – they are important – tell us something. The fact that we know his name, Bartimaeus, means that this wasn’t just a one and done miracle: a random person Jesus encounters along the way who experiences a transformation they never experienced – like the woman who had suffered hemorrhages for years who simply touches him – or the man who was deaf and mute who Jesus cures – we don’t know what happened to them after they experience these cures… or even a person who is very memorable but remains nameless like the Rich Young Man. The Rich Young Man goes to Jesus and asks what did he need to do to inherit eternal life and was told he needed to let go of his wealth. He found that too big an ask, and left Jesus, as St. Mark characterized it in the Gospel a few Sundays ago: sad. That’s one of the most memorable scenes in the Gospels, yet that guy remains nameless.
We know Bartimaeus because, after the cure, the Gospel tells us he followed Jesus. He became one of the disciples. So St. Mark when he’s first proclaiming the Gospel is pointing him out to the crowd as another example, another testimony, another witness to the difference that Jesus made, that He makes and why it’s important for listeners to hear the invitation to experience what Bartimaeus did… to hear those words “Take courage, get up, Jesus is calling you” as an invitation being directed towards us.
Why would Bartimaeus need courage? Particularly to ask for something that most of us would argue he deserves? It wasn’t fair that he had this disability. In fact, there’s a whole list of things that Bartimaeus can complain about – that he had been defined by this issue being called “blind”… that it had left him dependent upon the kindness of others (and at times subject to further difficulties when he was rejected by others) he wasn’t just being called “blind” but a “blind beggar.” That some had judged him harshly as having done something or his family has done something that resulted in his very vulnerable existence. That he was isolated and alone, begging on the side of a road.
What do you want me to do for you? Jesus asks Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus could have had a list of answers: How about a nicer mat to sit on when I beg? A bigger cup to put what I collect from those passing by? Or that the cup would be full? Yeah, Jesus can’t you tell that rich young man that you’d like him to give me some of what he has so I don’t have to beg anymore and that would make him good with you? Jesus, I want you to get even with those who have mocked me, rejected me, ignored me. Any or all of those responses would’ve been expected or understandable to any of us in that situation, wouldn’t they?
But what makes this encounter, unlike many others… What makes this so memorable? Bartimaeus has a pure and open heart. He’s already let go of all of those things. Those waves of anger and resentment over what others did or didn’t do. Those confusions and doubts about why – why he’s in this situation. He’s recognized the brokenness of the world and the brokenness in his life. He’s experienced injustice and a lack of compassion. But here’s the thing – he hasn’t lost faith. He’s not angry at God or blaming God. He’s been praying for something to change and maybe didn’t even notice how the Holy Spirit has been working on changing his heart and soul right there on the side of the road like a blind beggar. When he hears God is in their midst “that it was Jesus of Nazareth” what does he do? He cries out “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” More than a request for help, that was the cry of faith – God do you see me, do you notice me, do you care about me?
Jesus does. He sees the setbacks and failures and difficulties that have been a part of his life, and unlike the rich young man, he sees the joyful anticipation in Bartimaeus’ heart and soul. His physical sight may have been lost, but Bartimaeus’s spiritual vision is 20/20. He’s not fixated on any of the things of this world when he says, “Master I want to see.” The boldness of the request, the confidence in the ask is a pure prayer of one who has faith. It requires courage because Bartimaeus’ entire life is going to be upended by this encounter with Jesus. That’s why we remember Bartimaeus’ name and not the Rich Young Man’s name. Bartimaeus wants to see – he wants to see what’s most important in life – here and now and for all eternity. He wants to see Jesus. That’s why the miracle ends not with Jesus specifically doing or saying something – it’s not like he touches Bartimaeus’ eyes. He tells him “your faith has saved you,” which has a double meaning – it heals this infirmity but points to that deep restoration the heart and soul have in longing for God. This is why Jesus doesn’t have to specifically invite Bartimaeus to “come follow me” as he does so often with the other disciples. He tells Bartimaeus he can “Go your way.” Bartimaeus wanted to see Jesus and doesn’t want to stop now – which is why he follows Him.
Tonight, the Word of God comes to us and invites us to “take courage, get up, Jesus is calling you” – Jesus asks “What do you want me to do for you?” What is it? What are those deep prayers that we don’t dare to utter? The pivotal prayers that require bolder faith and courage because they will upend our lives? For me, I know in my heart of hearts that there’s nothing greater or more important than being His priest. And the more I think about it, and pray about it, I know that’s what I’m being called to ask for – to be a truly good, holy priest. But you know what I still pause, I still wait, I don’t quite ask it – because it’s scary… It means I have to put to death that pride and ego that emerges from time to time. It means letting go of those worldly things that still pop up from time to time that I imagine will bring happiness even though I should know better and I do know better that they won’t. There’s the reality that part of me wants to remain blind as an excuse not to change too much, to have that built-in excuse to maintain the status quo.
Jesus is calling you and me to admit where are we at in our relationship with Him? Is it somewhere on a scale between the extremes of the Rich Young Man and Bartimaeus? Can we acknowledge the self-inflicted blindness that obscures Him and His vision from coming into view? It is only scary because we’re too conditioned by the world around us to look for answers in all the wrong places. Think about it, do we see true joy on social media or do you see carefully edited and manufactured facades? Do we hear people who are fulfilled and living fulfilling lives in the anger, the division, the propaganda being peddled from all different aspects of society by leaders, celebrities, public figures? Somehow we keep falling for the lie, thinking what we want can be found in the things of the world, or how we’d find the fulfillment, the peace, the happiness if things were handled the way I want them to be or in the way I perceive to be “right.” And those lies can invade our sacred space within to obscure the authentic answer our true selves desire when we hear Jesus asking “What do you want me to do for you?”
St. John Paul II back in 2004 was speaking to young adults at this event called “World Youth Day” spoke about all this when he said: You perceive it in the depths of your heart: all that is good on earth, all professional success, even the human love that you dream of, can never fully satisfy your deepest and most intimate desires. Only an encounter with Jesus can give full meaning to your lives: “for you made us for yourself, and our heart finds no peace until it rests in you” (Saint Augustine, The Confessions, book 1, chapter 1). Do not let yourselves be distracted from this search. Persevere in it because it is your fulfillment and your joy that is at stake.
Bartimaeus is remembered not for being in any leadership position, or for any amazing feat that he accomplished… He’s simply known for that perseverance in seeking and finding Jesus – and when he gets to that place of faith and trust, experiencing that fulfillment and joy that forever changes his life. That his physical sight was restored was secondary to that.
What is it for you?
Bartimaeus comes to us and encourages us
-to open our minds to really reflect on what it is we need from God Himself to bring the fulfillment we long for –
to open our hearts to recognizing and desiring that fulfillment comes when I want what God Himself wants for me –
to open our ears to hear Jesus is calling you…asking “What do you want me to do for you?”
To open our eyes to see Him focus on Him alone.