Jesus asks: “What do you want me to do for you?”

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30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: Oct. 28, 2012
Jer 31:7-9; Ps 126; Heb 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52

Immediately Bartimaeus received his sight. And the first thing he saw was Jesus: the eyes of Jesus, shining with power and love and healing; the eyes of the one who had given him his sight. And he followed Jesus on the way.

Jesus is famous for asking questions. Some years ago, the Jesuit Father John Dear began to write down every question Jesus ever asked in the Gospels—and he got to 307 questions, not even counting the questions that are contained in Jesus’ parables (see his book The Questions of Jesus). And one of Jesus’ most provocative questions is the one that he asks Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel reading: “What do you want me to do for you?”

It might seem that Bartimaeus’ answer will be obvious. But consider that last week we heard Jesus ask the same question of his disciples James and John, in the passage right before this one. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. And it turned out that what they wanted were positions of power and honor; and he did not give them what they asked for.

We might say that James and John didn’t truly answer Jesus’ question—because they answered it only superficially. If we give Jesus an answer that springs from ambition or greed or lust, it’s the sin talking: not our heart and soul that he is asking about. A month ago, we heard St. James write, “You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:2-3) And when Jesus asks this question, that is not the kind of answer he is looking for.

“What do you want me to do for you?” To answer this, we have to reflect deeply:

  • What do you want?
  • What do you need?
  • Who are you?
  • What are you supposed to be?
  • How are you falling short of that? What are you lacking?
  • What, at root, is missing or wounded in you?

For Bartimaeus, his total blindness was a true response. In our society today, thanks to advances in medicine, desperate physical problems like his seem to be much less common. But psychological problems—deep wounds and scars—are quite common indeed. “What do you want me to do for you?” To heal the pain of having been abused—or of abusing others. To heal the scars of divorce—your parents’, or your own. To heal the pain of having had an abortion, or of knowing of one close by. Here we begin to answer Jesus’ question: not with what sin desires, but with what the heart cries out for.

And do we notice how strong Bartimaeus is in seeking this healing from Jesus?

  • First, he cries out to him: “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” He doesn’t hold it in. He doesn’t keep quiet out of embarrassment, or concern for his reputation, or trying to be self-sufficient and self-reliant. No, he cries out to Jesus.
  • Second, he doesn’t give up. Even though many rebuked him, telling him to be silent, he kept calling out all the more. He didn’t worry about the criticism and opinions of others; he didn’t let them discourage him. He didn’t give up.
  • Third, as soon as he heard that Jesus was calling him, he responded immediately. He threw aside his cloak—which he needed for warmth at night, and which held any money he had gotten from begging. He threw it aside, sprang up, and came to Jesus.

Crying out to Jesus, not giving up, and responding immediately: this is the faith of Bartimaeus. And Jesus did for him what he asked: Jesus healed him.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks you. And he looks at you with those same eyes that Bartimaeus saw, shining with power and love and healing. “What do you want me to do for you?”

And Jesus still heals today. This is one of the main reasons why I am a priest: because I know that Jesus heals, and I want to help to bring people to him to receive that healing. How does he heal? Often it is through natural means. But it is also through spiritual gifts that he gives to members of his Church:

  • To some he gives the charism, or spiritual gift, of healing; and through their touch or their prayers, he accomplishes healing in others.
  • Another way he works is through the self-giving love of Stephen Ministers. These fellow parishioners of yours have been trained to listen and care for those who have experienced life difficulties—one-on-one and confidentially—and so to bring the love and care of Christ to them in such moments.
  • And there are still other special ministries that address different kinds of wounds. One example is Project Rachel, in which women and men who are suffering from the pain of past abortions are assisted with counseling, days of healing, and support groups to receive the healing and grace of Christ. I have helped with this ministry. And there are other kinds of ministries for other kinds of wounds.

And two of the seven sacraments are classified as sacraments of healing—and so Christ accomplishes healing through them at my hands, or the hands of any priest.

One is the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, which is to be given to a Catholic who has begun to be seriously or dangerously ill. Our Lord may sometimes work physical healing through this anointing; but he always accomplishes a spiritual strengthening. For bodily problems make it more difficult to continue believing, trusting, or acting charitably toward others, through this sacrament our Lord gives the grace so that we may persevere in faith, hope, and love. In my experience, what I see in the person who receives this sacrament is their fear being replaced by peace—and by a deep sense of being loved by God.

The anointing of the sick is a powerful sacrament—but it is only for those who are seriously ill. But the other sacrament of healing is available all the time, for any one of you. It is the sacrament of confession—of reconciliation and penance. And this is indeed a sacrament of great healing.

Surely we all know what great suffering a sense of guilt can cause—whether false guilt or true guilt: how it can weigh you down and fester inside you. But in this sacrament it is possible to open up and pour out all your sorrow for your sins; and then, in that moment of truth, to look up and find the eyes of Jesus looking at you, shining with power and love and forgiveness and healing.

Whenever I hear at the beginning of a confession that it has been more than a year, perhaps many years, I immediately feel so very glad—not glad that it has been so long, but that this time has finally come to an end. And when it then comes time for me to pronounce those words of absolution—”I absolve you from your sins”—I will usually feel in some way the chains breaking, the burden being thrown down, that you had carried up to that moment. And that is awesome.

And so I hope that not many of you adults have not been to confession in years! And I hope that none of you are walking around spiritually dead, from having killed the share of divine life within you that was given to you in your baptism, through committing mortal sin and not bringing it to sacramental confession. And yet how quickly that life can be restored, those chains broken, that burden released, in minutes! In minutes, you can be healed!

So, please, come to confession. Come to the divine healer, Jesus Christ, who asks you, “What do you want me to do for you?” Come with the faith of Bartimaeus, who cried out to Jesus and did not give up, no matter what anyone else said. Let our Lord heal your wounds, dry your tears, and fill your heart with joy!

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