“What do you want me to do for you?” What a great question to ask of one in need of a touch of kindness. It’s also a great question to ask of one who doesn’t seem to need any help at all, because underneath the offer of help is the sentiment that declares, “I see you; I care about you.”
But it can be a rather personal question, can’t it? One that gets us to open up and really discover what we most desire. One that forces us to be vulnerable enough to share what it is we most long for.
Is it any wonder that was the question Jesus asked most frequently in the New Testament? Jesus, the one who knows our needs before we fully identify them or give them voice. Jesus, the friend who sticks closer to us than a brother. Of course He would ask, “What do you want me to do for you?” And it’s the question He still asks us today. “Child of mine, what do you want me to do for you?”
When Jesus heals the blind man named Bartimaeus in Mark 10, Jesus begins their personal encounter with the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” But even before Jesus could ask Bartimaeus this question, it is Bartimaeus who takes the initiative at moving toward Jesus.
When he heard that Jesus was passing by, he immediately began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” No amount of shushing would quiet him. Not even stern warnings that he keep quiet would deter him. I don’t know much about Bartimaeus, but I love him already!
When Jesus calls for him to come, he doesn’t just get up and walk over to Jesus. Verse 50 tells us that he casts off his cloak, jumps up, and comes to Jesus. His cloak may have been his only possession in the world. He is a beggar after all, with no profession and no money other than what he could convince others to give him. His cloak is everything, but it is nothing compared to knowing Jesus!
He drops everything he has now in order to get what he wants Jesus to do for him. Am I willing to drop everything I have right now for what Jesus can do in my life if I relinquish the reins…if I drop my cloak?
Bartimaeus yields himself to Jesus in three significant ways. He calls Jesus “Son of David”, recognizing Jesus’ kingly authority and right to rule over him. He cries out for mercy, recognizing his need for a savior and Jesus’ power to extend God’s mercy. And he addresses Jesus as “Rabboni”, meaning “my Master”, acknowledging his desire for Jesus to be his master from this moment forward.
Bartimaeus’ answer to Jesus’ question, “What do you want me to do for you?” is straightforward and comes without hesitation. “I want to regain my sight!” He knows what his deepest desire is and he feels safe enough with Jesus to ask Him for healing. And then, as Jesus does so many times when He heals, he links the miracle with faith when He declares, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.”
But Bartimaeus does not go his own way; instead, he immediately begins following Christ on His way on the road. When our deepest desires are satisfied by Jesus, there’s really no other place we want to be than by His side following Him on life’s journey.
Bartimaeus’ story ends well. It begins with his taking the initiative toward Jesus. It continues with his ready answer to the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” And it concludes with his faith making him well.
I want to be like Bartimaeus. I want to live out Psalm 37:4 every day of my life so that as I delight myself in the LORD, He will give me the desires of my heart.
But often it seems I’m more like the man at the Pool of Bethesda who has suppressed his truest desires for so long that he can no longer articulate what he really wants.
What if we don’t know exactly what we want?
What if our deepest desires have lain dormant for a very long time?
What if we can no longer identify what it is we truly want, because every time we let our hopes rise, the fall of unmet desire is that much harder to deal with?
What if I am more like the man at the Pool of Bethesda than I am like Bartimaeus? Can God still work a miracle when I don’t even directly answer His question about desire?
The man in John 5 had been sick for a long time, a really long time. Thirty-eight years to be exact. That’s most of his life expectancy in antiquity. Always sitting at the pool by the gate where the sheep would have been brought to the temple for sacrifice. I wonder if he wished someone would offer a sacrificial lamb for him?
I love that Jesus knows he had been in that condition for a long time. And He speaks to me again, “Child of mine, I see what condition you are in. I see what condition you have been in for a long time. For a very long time.”
And then comes the question. But, it’s not the usual question, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus knows the man won’t have an answer for that question. It’s too much. It’s too hard to answer that question when you have been in this condition for such a very long time.
It’s not the right question for the one who has given up hope that things will change.
Jesus knows He has to meet the man halfway. More than halfway. Moved by compassion, Jesus prompts the man to engage with Him when He asks him instead, “Do you wish to get well?” All the man need do in response is give a simple “yes” or “no” reply. Sometimes when we are worn out from praying for the same thing year after year, all we can muster is a “yes” or “no” reply.
And sometimes, we can’t even do that. Sometimes our response is like this man’s—a non-response. An excuse. When we have given up all hope that things in our life will ever change, we find ourselves unable to answer Jesus’ direct questions. Instead, we—like the sick man—may just give excuses for why we are still living in the same condition after all this time.
Jesus’ question. “Do you want to get well?” is met with this response, “I have no man to put me in the pool…another steps down before me.” Did you notice that’s not exactly an answer to Jesus’ question? It’s an excuse for why nothing has changed in his life.
Have you ever felt stuck like this? Wanting something different but not sure what you want? The thing you really desire is so big, so impossible, so out of your league that you don’t even recognize it as your deepest desire. It’s too easy to come to God with our list of failures and limitations and conclude that nothing will ever change. “I’ve failed before; I will fail again,” and so we silence the whisper of desire as it rises up within us. And when we silence our desires, we can’t answer Jesus’ question of us, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Did you notice that the text doesn’t say that the man’s faith made him well? It’s hard to have faith in God doing the impossible when we have lost hope. And if we don’t really believe God can do the impossible in our lives, then we aren’t really seeing Him as God the All-Mighty.
Jesus does heal this man too, not because “his faith has made him well”, but out of sheer compassion for someone who has given up hope for a better tomorrow. I love this about Jesus. Even though God’s preference is always that we discover our deepest desires and that we present them to Him in faith, he meets the needs of both the one who knows his deepest desires and the one who has yet to discover them.