Job 42:1-6, 1-17 Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22 Hebrews 7:23-28 Mark 10:46-52
One of the things I find fascinating about the Bible is that regardless of how many times you read it, it still delivers up new undiscovered gems ever so often. Today’s Gospel passage is a perfect example.
Last week we read about James and John who came to Jesus with a request. “Teacher”, they said, “we want You to do us a favour.” To which Jesus responded, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
In todays’ reading we read about Blind Bartimaeus who came to Jesus with a request. “Son of David,” he cried, “have mercy on me!” To which Jesus responded, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
In some of our English translations, the fact that Jesus uses the exact same words doesn’t always come through…but I checked it in the Greek and guess what…Jesus uses the exact same words in both cases. “What do you want Me to do for you?”
Anglican scholar, Tom Wright believes that Mark is deliberately presenting us with a contrast…and I think he is right. (In fact Wright is always Wright even when he is wrong, but in this case I believe he is right as well as Wright.) When Jesus asked James and John, “What do you want Me to do for you?” they asked for fame, fortune, and glory…or power and prestige, as Wright puts it. When Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want Me to do for you?” the reply was simply, “My Rabbi, that I might see again.” The contrast could not be clearer…
In many ways, Bartimaeus became a model to imitate. Unlike the disciples who seemed to see Jesus as a cash cow, if you will…a means to a powerful political end…Bartimaeus saw Jesus for what He was: The Son of David. The Messiah. The Saviour. In this sense, the healing of the blind man was a sign for the disciples…they were the ones who were blind and needed sight. They had been with Jesus for at least three years and they still did not really see Him for who He was…they saw Him as they wanted to see Him…a revolutionary warrior King who would restore the geo-political kingdom of Israel after getting rid of their Roman overlords…not the Saviour of the world Who was on His way to Jerusalem to give up His life for their lives ad our lives.
It is interesting to note that Bartimaeus cast aside his cloak before going to Jesus. You need to understand that this piece of cloth was not for warmth (although he more than likely slept in it)…no, it was mostly used for begging. It was his cloak that received the coins tossed his way. So there’s faith in this action…it tells us that he was expecting Jesus to do something that would change him from a beggar into something different…an individual who could work and provide for himself. You see, Bartimaeus was willing to leave everything…as little as what it was, it was all he had…but he was willing to give it up to receive and embrace whatever Jesus would give to him. That is faith in action. And the narrative ends with him following Jesus in the way. I don’t believe it is coincidental that Mark uses the words “in the way” as the believers were known as “Followers of the Way” in the early years of the Church. It is only later in Antioch that they were called Christians. And also remember where Jesus was heading…to Jerusalem to be crucified. That was His “way”…and Bartimaeus followed Him in that way.
Now, the passage we read from in Job has often been used to comfort many people in times of hardship and suffering. Job lost it all, but after being vindicated by God, his fortunes were restored – in fact he was better off than he was before his awful ordeal. But I will never forget what a very wise woman once said to me when I used this passage to encourage her in her personal struggles. She looked me squarely in the eyes and said, “That’s nice for Job. But what about Lazarus?”
The Lazarus she was talking about was the poor sick man who lay at a rich man’s gate and who died in his misery and poverty…there was no “good ending” for him. What she meant was that Job’s experience is not a universal rule…in fact, if you read the Scriptures his was more the exception to the rule. Think of how many biblical characters did not have their fortunes restored to them.
Hebrews 11 tells us of those who “were tortured refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawn in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, YET NONE OF THEM RECEIVED ALL THAT GOD HAD PROMISED. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.”
The lesson of the book of Job is not that God will make you richer than you were before your suffering. It is not a liberation theology treatise or a social gospel manifesto. No, it is rather that God uses suffering to open our spiritually blind eyes so that we move from head knowledge (knowing ABOUT Him) to heart knowledge (really knowing Him personally).
I have always appreciated the words of the prophet Habakkuk at the end of his book. Basically he said this: “Even if I lose everything…even if total economic disaster comes upon me and my people…I will still serve and praise my God!” God is still God and He is still good and merciful and kind and loving and compassionate whether He gives us what we want or not…right?
The example of Jesus Himself comes to mind. Faced with the awful, painful death on the cross, He begged His Father to take the bitter cup away from Him. But He hastened to add, “Nevertheless, not My will be done, but Your will be done.” And He went on to the cross, offering Himself up as the sacrifice for sin once for all …your sin…my sin…and won for us the victory over sin, death, and Satan.
Ultimately, the story of Blind Bartimaeus serves as a contrast for more than just the disciples. They were blinded by their ambition for power and prestige, as were the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate who could not see truth even when He stood right in front of him. We too are often blinded by various things in life, thinking that if I only had this or if I only was like that then I would be fulfilled. But fulfilment comes with godly contentment and godly contentment only comes from knowing God for Who He is, not for what He can give us.
So, as you come to our Lord’s Table today once again to participate in this clear portrait of His love for you, think on this. If Jesus were to ask you today, “What do you want Me to do for you?” what would be your reply?
Johannes W H van der Bijl © 2018-10-22