23rd Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. Rod Sprange

What Do You Want Me to Do for You?

Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Mark 10:46-52

Susan and I have five grandchildren. They call me Pop. I also make pizza, so they call me Pizza Pop. Rhedyn is almost 14. Earlier this summer we were having a discussion with her mother who told us “Rhedyn says ‘Pop knows everything’”. Smart girl.  Then a week or so later we were visiting them, Rhedyn was there. As we were discussing something Jen repeated, “Rhedyn says Pop knows everything”. Rhedyn with a small smile said “No, I said, Pop thinks he knows everything”. Humbled again!

In the Old Testament reading today we see poor Job humbled by God. Job is wise enough to realize he had been arrogant in demanding that he would only accept all the terrible things he had and was suffering, as long as God explained to him what he had done to deserve these things. He basically told God that he deserved an explanation.

God had responded with something like “Who do you think you are and who do you think you are talking to. You don’t question me, I question you”.  God had then asked Job if he had been there when God created the universe? Could he measure the world? And about four pages of similar questions, which were impossible for Job to answer.

By the end of God’s interrogation, Job realized what he had done, and how it is impossible for mere mortals to understand God’s thinking. He humbled himself before God. Job’s friends had been no help to him in his distress, in fact they had made things worse. They had not humbled themselves before God. God told them to go and make sacrifice and then to ask Job to pray for them, because Job was a truly righteous and faithful man and God would listen to him. Job did this and then had all his health, family and fortune restored to him.

Job had the gift of true faith - absolute trust in God’s goodness. This gift, which Job had embraced, had led him into a deeper relationship with God. Job also had the gift of intercession, the ability and willingness to pray with faith and sincerity for another. By embracing his God given gifts and using them as God desired, led Job, once more, to enjoy abundant life. Of course the Job story is metaphor. We need to understand it that way, and as a theological reflection on the problem of evil set against the knowledge of God’s abundant grace.

Today I can’t help but think about the problem of evil after yesterday’s hate-filled mass shooting in a Synagog in the US. We must confront hate whenever we encounter it. We must not be silent in the face of prejudice. Now is the time for all Christians to challenge hate and speak God’s love for all creation.

Let’s turn to today’s Gospel reading from Mark. Do you like surprises? Some people love surprises, others hate them. I like a surprise, as long as I know it’s coming. I expect that Susan will surprise me with a gift at Christmas or on my birthday - the real surprise is in discovering what the gift is. When I read a mystery novel I expect to be surprised by what happens, surprised by the unfolding story. We are supposed to expect surprises in a good mystery.

The Gospel is like that, each week, in every reading, there is a surprise. Something surprising that we just weren’t expecting. This is especially true when we read about what Jesus said and did. That’s why I am amused by the phrase WWJD What would Jesus do? The problem is that so often Jesus does or says what we don’t expect. I like to ask, What does Jesus want me to do? Now that takes some serious pondering. It is the central question, or should be the central question, of our Christian discipleship.

I think searching the Gospels for the surprises is one of the most fruitful ways of engaging them.

So, here’s a question. In today’s Gospel reading, where Jesus encounters and heals Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, what surprises you?  In particular, think about what surprises you about Jesus’s interaction with Bartimaeus.

I am surprised by Jesus question in response to Bartimaeus calling out to him for mercy. We know Jesus is a healer. Everyone in the region has heard about his healings. In Mark’s version of the Gospel Jesus has already healed a blind person. Here is the surprise, when he calls Bartimaeus over to him he asks him “What do you want me to do for you?” Seriously? What do you think? He wants you to heal him? So, I am surprised by this question. I expect Bartimaeus was too. So what is the Gospel trying to get me to see?

We often ask God for things, but do we really want what it is we are asking for? Do we really know what we are asking. When we pray for justice for the poor, are we really ready to give up some of our comparative wealth and privilege, to share it fully with the poor? When we pray for God to do something - are we prepared to do our part in making it happen. We pray for God to heal the earth, our environment, but are we really doing all we can to make things better? When we pray to God we are also accepting some responsibility.

I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from praying…but I do want us to take our prayers seriously and make them thoughtfully. Our prayers should change us.

Bartimaeus responds to Jesus’s question, “What do you want me to do for you?” by saying, “My teacher, I want you to let me see again”. We will come back to the double meaning here in a minute.

But what are the consequences of Bartimaeus’s request. Yes, wonderful news that he will be able to see again, but If he is no longer blind he will lose his income., as poor as it is He will lose his identity in the community. He will have to seek work. He will no longer be able to rely on relatives for care and food. His life will be dramatically different. Jesus is asking him “Is this really want you want?”. “Have you really thought this through?”.

But Bartimaeus has thrown aside his cloak - the place he collects the money. And here is the critical response he makes to Jesus “My teacher, let me see again”. And he does see again. Jesus gives back his physical sight. But Bartimaeus calls Jesus ‘My Teacher’. What does a good teacher do? A good teacher helps us to see things. Bartimaeus has already shown insight - by calling Jesus ‘Son of David’ he acknowledges who Jesus is.

And when he has his sight back, what does Bartimaeus do? He leaves behind his old life and follows Jesus. He has been healed of his blindness, and given a new life as a disciple of Jesus. He has sen what Jesus has offered him. As he follows Jesus, his eyes will see more clearly.

Bartimaeus is the second blind person Jesus has healed in Mark - and both incidents occur immediately after the disciples have been ‘blind’ to what Jesus has been teaching them. Just before this incident James and John were asking Jesus to give them special places of honour. An argument had broken out among the disciples about who was more important. Jesus had needed to teach them about servant leadership. That he came to serve, not be served. He was trying to open their eyes.

Bartimaeus called out to Jesus to have mercy on him. When you call out to God, when you pray to the triune God, listen for God to call you and ask you “What do you want me to do for you?” Think carefully about your answer, but also remember to ask God, “What do you want me to do for you?”

This is a great time to be asking that question, because we are entering the time of year when at St. Peter’s, we focus on stewardship. At St. Peter’s we think of several areas of our life when we talk about stewardship. First we acknowledge that all we have has been entrusted to us by God - and that God is inviting us to use all our gifts for God’s mission in the world. We need to think about the gift of time - and how God is inviting us to share our time for God’s work. We need to think about our talents and abilities, and how God is inviting us to share them in God’s service. We need to think about the wonderful gift of faith that has been passed down to us over the millennia, and how God is calling us to nurture and share our faith as true disciples of Christ - students and followers of Christ. And, we need to think about our resources, our finances, and how God is inviting us to share them to further God’s mission in the world.

These are all spiritual questions. If we trust God, we will find this a joyful and exciting exercise.

Last year we had a series of “Stewardship Moments”. I am pleased to announce, that by popular demand, we will be having three more “Stewardship moments” this year, beginning today. At announcement time we will hear a short stewardship message. This year’s theme is ‘The Three Fallacies of Scarcity’. The Bible and our faith remind us of God’s great generosity and the abundance God has provided in creation. But the world, through advertising and politics, likes to scare us into believing we live in a time of scarcity. Our three speakers will each give a very short repudiation of one of the three fallacies of scarcity - 1. There is not enough to go around, 2. More is better, and 3. That’s just the way it is.

Lissa Ray-Beal, Mary Holmen and Donna Joy will be our presenters.

Let us pray, loving, gracious and merciful Go, help us to be open to your surprises, and to respond in faith and joy, to your invitation to take our part in your mission. Amen