Life As A Christian: Part XVI
Mark 10: 46-52
September 14, 2008
“What do you want me to do for you?” It seems such an odd question for Jesus to ask that man. I mean, the man was blind, hadn’t always been blind, but was blind now, and his blindness had reduced him to the existence and subsistence of a beggar. Surely Jesus must have known what this man would want – why did he ask?
I think Jesus was demonstrating something he’d been teaching his disciples just a little while before, this question making the lesson visible. The lesson was about a certain fundamental necessity to be learned by anyone, then or now, who wants to live as a Christian. What was the lesson? Well, you have to go back to the paragraph right before this Bible passage. Let me read it to you.
“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Probably this lesson is very familiar to most of you. It’s straight from Christianity 101. The lesson is about servanthood.
“What do you want me to do for you?” That’s the question a servant asks, isn’t it? Life as a Christian: it’s to be lived in the self-orientation of a servant. Of course, servanthood takes a wide variety of forms, depending on each person’s particular gifts. The people we’re going to elect today will use their gifts to serve as elders and deacons. But, all of us have gifts we can use to serve others, and serving is something we can do well, so long as we are clear about that calling and don’t let our own egos get in the way. And, the serving we are to do, it’s a very egalitarian form of service.
We don’t get to pick and choose whom to serve, serving only those we like, toward whom we feel some affection. Nor do we serve only those who, to our way of seeing things, deserve to be served. Anyone, anyone whose life path crosses ours is a neighbor to be served. And anyone whose life path doesn’t literally cross ours, anyone who lives in another part of the world, for example, also is a neighbor to serve, sometimes through financial donations and volunteer missions, but always serving them by speaking out against oppression, injustice, greed, violence, speaking up for freedom, justice, generosity, peace, and always serving them through prayer, sending our prayer energy to that faraway brother or sister.
“What do you want me to do for you?” It’s the question a servant asks. But notice carefully: it’s the question which a respectful servant asks, a servant who doesn’t presume to be able to read the mind of the other, doesn’t presume to already know everything about the other, what the other really needs and is longing for, but respectfully asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The self-orientation of a Christian is to be that of a respectful servant. Trouble is, it’s awfully easy to forget the “respectful” part. See, we do very much want to serve others, want to help them; that’s a genuine desire right from our hearts. But sometimes we forget to serve respectfully. It’s not that our behavior is rude or condescending, just forgetful. We forget a couple of very important realities. One, we forget that the other person is a unique human being, not exactly like us. Two, we forget that we can never know all there is to know about someone, how it feels to live inside his or her skin, how life looks through his or her eyes. And that forgetfulness can cause us to make some big mistakes when we try to serve him or her. We hear a person’s story, what’s going on in his or her life, we know what we would need in those circumstances, and so, we jump to the conclusion that this person must want and need the same thing, when what this person really wants and needs may be quite different.
If only we’d remember the other’s uniqueness and honor it and take the time to ask that question in loving respect: “What do you want me to do for you?” You know, sometimes people come to the door of our church, people who appear impoverished, and they ask to speak with a pastor. It would be so easy to jump to the conclusion that they are going to want financial assistance of some kind, money for groceries, diapers, gasoline, rent, utility bills, a prescription that needs to be filled. And that is what some of them want, what some of them desperately need. But that’s not what others of them want at all. All they want is for Kenny or me to pray with them for a while. Asking the question as a respectful servant is so important.
But serving the impoverished out in the world, whether those who come to our church door or those who comes to benevolent agencies where we serve as volunteers, ironically we are more likely to behave as respectful servants toward them because they are strangers. You know that they need some sort of assistance, but since they are strangers, you know that you don’t know exactly what kind of assistance they need, and so, you ask. Our forgetfulness about being respectful servants is more apt to occur in our intimate relationships, with a spouse or partner or close friend. We don’t bother asking them what they want and need; we assume that we know them well enough to second guess their wants and needs.
Or we presume to know them well enough to know what’s really best for them, what they should want and need in our opinion. And , failing to ask the respectful question, often we wind up sort of unconsciously doing for them what we would want done for us. But here’s the shortcoming of the Golden Rule: not everybody likes what you like. For example, nothing may please you more than having somebody throw a big party to celebrate your birthday, and you might assume that others must like to have their birthdays celebrated in the same way. Hence, you don’t really hear what your loved one is saying, that he or she really doesn’t want a birthday party.
Forgetting to ask that oh so important question, two unhappy things can occur. First, the real needs of the other don’t get tended, and second, you’re likely to get your feelings hurt, might even get angry, because the other doesn’t seem grateful for what you did.
Honoring the uniqueness of each child of God, serving respectfully: that’s a basic for people who want to live as Christians. Next Sunday, we’ll move on to another Bible passage, to another piece of the “Life As A Christian” picture. But before we leave Bartimaeus, let’s not leave without noticing that two things happened to Bartimaeus, not just one. He was cured of his blindness, and he became a follower of Jesus. Mark the storyteller says that Bartimaeus immediately regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way.
Such is the power, I think, of those God-given servant gifts you and I have been given, with the power not only to tend someone’s immediate, pressing needs, but also, to open someone’s eyes and heart to a new way of living. But please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that our behavior as respectful servants is meant to convert people into Christianity, to make them followers of Jesus. No; God calls some folks to walk other sacred paths. But the sacred paths of other religions also include living in service to others, so our behavior as Christian servants can be for them an inspiring reminder to re-energize their own servant calling along their own sacred paths. And, yes, sometimes it’s their behavior as respectful servants which reminds and inspires and re-energizes our calling to serve. Behavior as respectful servants has the power to touch human hearts and stimulate a willingness to go and do likewise, to go and live respectfully serving others. And, were more and more people inspired to do that, wouldn’t it change our world for the better?
So, when the sacred summons comes, when a child of God is calling out, “Help me; love me; have mercy,” even though the timing may be inconvenient for you, don’t hesitate to be the servant you are called to be in your life as a Christian. When the sacred summons comes, God calling, “Whom shall I send?” sing it out, “Here I am, Lord.” Remember that what you do when you use your gifts as a respectful servant has the power to make a huge difference in someone’s life, bigger than you may imagine, thanks be to the power of God.