Have you ever heard that, say, in a store or a bank or a fast food outlet? The question is growing increasingly rare these days–at The World’s Largest Retailer, for instance, I think employees can be fired for uttering these words.
Mark 10 records two occasions, one shortly after the other, when Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Although His question is the same in both instances, the circumstances that prompt it are very different.
In the first case, Mark 10.36, Jesus’ disciples James and John have just declared, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Whew–that’s pretty cheeky, don’t you think? But Jesus humours them, and asks His question: “What do you want me to do for you?”
Their response is telling: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
James and John are opportunists. Jesus’ notoriety and authority have gone to their heads, and they want a share in both. They knew He has the ability to grant any request they make, so they try to elbow their way to the head of the line and demand positions of power in Jesus’ coming earthly kingdom. When Jesus says in verse 38, “You do not know what you are asking,” they insist they are able to “drink the same cup” He is about to drink–though they don’t fully understand what they are saying–and wait for Jesus to grant them their request.
He doesn’t. And when the rest of the disciples hear about it, they are indignant. Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them all about servant leadership: “…Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” They eventually learn this, but it takes a while.
In the second case, Jesus is in Jericho. Matthew records that two blind beggars are sitting by the road as He passes by. Mark and Luke single out one of them, Bartimaeus, in their accounts. Mark tells us that when the beggar hears that Jesus of Nazareth is right in front of him, he cries out, “Jesus, Son of of David, have mercy on me!”
Again, Jesus responds: “What do you want me to do for you?”
The beggar, who was evidently born sighted, says, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” Jesus instantly heals him, telling him that his faith has made him well. Luke is more explicit in his record of what happens: “And immediately he recovered his sight and began following him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.” (Luke 18.43)
Is faith the issue here? Not really. James, John, and Bartimaeus all know Jesus is able to do whatever they ask of him. It’s all about motivation. James and John want glory for themselves, and Bartimaeus gives the glory to God. James and John want to lead; Bartimaeus wants to follow.
Does the Good Shepherd want to help His sheep? Of course He does! Is He able to do whatever we ask of Him? Of course He is! But motivation is critical.
Jesus’ half-brother, James, writes to those first-century Jewish believers, “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4.2b,3)
When we ask Jesus to help us, we must be careful about what we ask. And why.
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