Friday, March 18, 2016

Jesus Asks: "What do you want Me to do for you?"

This is the 11th post in my series "Asking Myself," in which I weekly ponder one question posed in Teresa Blythe's rich book, 50 Ways to Pray. You can find the start of the series here and last week's post here. Last week marked a shift from theological musings to reflection on the specific questions Jesus posed in the New Testament.

Q: "What is it you want me to do for you?" --Mark 10:36

Unlike last week, where I dove into the verses first, I pondered this question without checking the specific context, knowing only that Jesus asked it.  I guessed that it might have been addressed to someone in need of healing. 

My answer? The "one thing" I would want Jesus to do for me were He to ask me point blank? I think at this moment in time it would be for direction. Fact is, I'm still stuck on my thoughts from last week. If you read my previous post, I talked about how I felt God had given me the impression that I might choose a new pursuit without fear, that He's for me, that He's confident even that I can make a wise (enough) decision about my future. 

All very wonderful things I should be extremely happy to hear. And I was. But actually, the thought terrifies me! I prefer the old paradigm-- Where I don't act until I receive the midnight revelation, the clear epiphany, the specific calling, the confirmation of God's Perfect Will, even if it's uttered in the still small voice. The little voice that might whisper:
This is the one you'll marry. 

Go spend a year studying the Bible.

Apply for that job.

I've heard all of those whispers before, and have even followed them in peace. The resulting experience was not uniformly easy, but I could cling to my own faith in God's leading in those situations. Though I still trust God was leading and my following was the best I could do at being faithful, I'm not entirely sure I believe in the idea of "perfect will" anymore. I suspect God's giving us free will extends to much more than just our initial salvation decision. 

It's a good thought. But still a terrifying one. 

I'm a rule follower. I don't like to get it wrong. I want to make the very best choices. Jesus, what do I want? Control over my situation. The kind of divine control that seems to come from knowing Your exact, perfect, specific, nitty-gritty design and then doing that exact thing. 

But honestly, who really knows? Who can say with 100 percent assurance that they've heard and have followed to a T God's exact will for their life? For me, I'm not sure I can say so — perhaps not even in any one tiny decision among the billions I will face in my lifetime.

OK. So, I allowed myself to wander in prayer thus far. It was time to get a look at the context of Jesus' question. I was surprised to find that while Jesus does ask Bartimaeus this very question in Mark 10:51, and the blind man says without hesitation, "My Rabbi, I want to SEE!" The verse that Blythe has chosen (Mark 10:36) actually comes as Jesus' response to those Sons of Zebedee, disciples John and James, who think it reasonable enough, upon hearing that Jesus will soon die and resurrect, to approach Jesus and request they might be seated in places of second and third highest honor when Jesus is enthroned. 

"We want you to do us a favor," they begin. (Mark 10:35)

Jesus asks them if they are able to also drink from the bitter cup of suffering and be baptized with the baptism of suffering. That's suffering inside and out, ya'll. 

"Oh yes," they relplied, "we are able." (v. 39)

Gotta give it to them for pluck. And Jesus confirms their assertion, but with a twist:

"You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right of my left. God has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen." (v. 39)

James and John must have been thinking, "Wait. What? What just happened here?"

It wasn't long before the other disciples, desirous of the same honor as the brothers Zebedee, but not nearly so brash to ask for it, started grumbling about their request. Jesus reiterates what he told them earlier -- you know, that lecture about the greatest becoming the least and vice versa...

"The rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many." (vv. 42-45)

Jesus hit the nail on the head and the ball out of the park. But the disciples can be pretty dense sometimes. As if the universe was conspiring to give them a supplementary object lesson, the very next passage introduces them to one of the least of their society, a blind beggar, sitting by the road, crying out to Jesus for mercy, though he was scorned and shushed by others. This time, Jesus invites the man to come ask his "favor."

"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked. (Mark 10:51)

You know how the story ends. The begger says he wants sight. Jesus tells Bartimaeus his faith has healed him. And though Jesus also says "Go," Bartimaeus, no longer blind, stays and follows Jesus down the road. 

I envy both the disciples and the beggar because they knew exactly what they wanted, and they didn't hesitate to ask. I think this is good policy, even if our requests, in the whole scheme of things are full-tilt crazy. 

My premise for spending a year asking prayerful, ultimate questions week by week came from a conviction that the Triune God welcomes questions. As Blythe so wonderfully puts it, "If Jesus can ask God why God forsook him on the cross, we can have confidence that God can handle our honesty as well" (50 Ways to Pray, 64).

And I'm also thankful these three men asked their questions and were recorded for all to read. In these questions, I realize I'm not so different. 
I also want honor. 

I want to sit next to Jesus.

I want to see. 

I'll have what they're having. But maybe without the side of suffering or being-brought-to-the-dust low, least-of-these style. :)

It doesn't work that way. But it doesn't hurt to ask. 

Next week: "My God, why have you forsaken me?"

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