“What do you want me to do for you?” This is Jesus’ question to Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who calls out to Jesus for mercy. His voice rises above all the clatter of the crowd and beseeches Jesus, “Son of David, have pity on me.”
This is a Gospel favorite for so many reasons. First, Bartimaeus refuses to let the crowd quiet his voice. Yes, he is a beggar, but he somehow knows this is a moment that too quickly can pass. He cannot let that happen. He must reach out to Jesus.
Second, Jesus is able to pick out of the cacophony of sounds and voices this one voice, this blind beggar pleading for mercy. There was something different in Bartimaeus’ voice that Jesus discerned amidst all the others.
Third, there is this seemingly out of place line, “He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.” Some biblical scholars suggest that the “cloak” represents a type of uniform or designation of Bartimaeus as a legitimate beggar. Whatever it was, it seems important enough—demeaning enough—that he throws off his old self to go to Jesus.
And then this question: “What do you want me to do for you?” This is the question Jesus asks each one of us. He does not tell us what we should want. Rather he asks us what we want, what we really want deep down. Bartimaeus does not ask for a house, for a job, for a Mercedes-Benz. He says, “I want to see.” In receiving his sight, he can rejoin the community that put a cloak on him and sat him by the side of the road to beg. In this honest encounter, he becomes a disciple and follows Jesus along the way. Bartimaeus seems to say, I am not a blind beggar; I am a disciple of the Lord.
So what do we want? Really, deeply want? What do we say to Jesus who asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?” So before we raise our voice and call out to Jesus, and before we throw off the “cloak” that burdens us or defines us, we first need to know our deepest desire: “Master, I want to see.” Lord, I want to be your disciple.
Robert Hotz is a consultant with American City Bureau, Inc. and is the Director of The Passion of Christ: The Love That Compels Campaign for Holy Cross Province.