Last week, we looked at the passage just before this one in Mark, where James and John approach Jesus and say, “we want you to do whatever we ask of you,” and Jesus says, “what is it you want me to do for you?” and they respond that they want places of honor.
Jesus does not say, “you should not seek to be great. Your desire to be first is bad.”
Instead, he redirects their notion of greatness.
He says [essentially], “your notion of greatness and God’s notion of greatness are different.
You want to be first? Good, be the first person to serve, the first person in someone’s day, to say “you need some help with that, can I help you, is there some way I can be of service to you?”
And so I think that James and John actually model a good (or at least sincere) way of praying: tell God what you want, even if what you want isn’t exactly a model of purity or holiness, even if what you want is selfish or materialistic.
Pray honestly, because it’s not as though God doesn’t already know those things about you; it’s not as if there’s a part of us that God doesn’t know about…so we might as well get that all out there where God can work with it.
Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, is sitting by the roadside. When he “hears that it was Jesus of Nazareth,” he starts to shout out “Jesus, son of David [honored one, anointed one], “mercify me!”
“He’s not asking Jesus to be kindly disposed toward him,” to feel mercy or pity toward him: he’s asking him to do something for him, and so a better translation is probably “help me!”
...but “many sternly ordered him” to be quiet.
I was naming a dynamic that will come up if we pray naturally:
I was making the point that if we pray the “James and John prayers” to God, at first it’ll feel weird, strange…because we tend to believe we’ve got to wear uncomfortable "high heels" in prayer instead of just being our barefoot selves: we’ve somehow picked up the notion that prayer should be formal, or done in a certain way, or be filled with holy thoughts…and so – fair warning – if we pray honestly, it’ll “feel weird to feel normal” before God.
There’s a voice that says, “I don’t really need any help…I can handle this on my own. Things aren’t so bad. It’ll be all right.”
When you hear that voice sternly ordering you to be quiet, cry out even more loudly, “I DO need help! I CAN'T handle this on my own, things ARE bad, I’m NOT sure how things are going, I need help. Help!"
There’s a voice that says, “who is it you think you’re yelling out to anyway? Does God really exist? Aren’t you just talking to your imagination?” When you hear that voice sternly ordering you to be quiet, cry out even more loudly, “God, you are mystery, incomprehensible, beyond my understanding. But that doesn’t mean you don’t exist! I believe. I believe you are up there, and in here: I believe you are
There’s a voice that says, “well even if God does exist, he’s too big and powerful, too busy with too many other people and problems to worry about you.
When you hear that voice sternly ordering you to be quiet, cry out even more loudly, “God, you are not a harassed telephone operator (as per JB Phillips), or a corporate CEO – you are God, not human, and that means you don’t have…you’re not limited by human attributes; you can and in fact you do care about every single human being on the face of the planet at the exact same time. So remind me you are outside of time and space, not limited by either, remind me that even the hairs of our head are all counted, and that you are intimately concerned about every detail of my life: so help me.
There’s a voice that says, “well, even if God does exist and does care, he’s mad at you…disappointed in you…you’re in trouble, because God has seen what you’ve done and disapproves of you.”
When you hear that (evil!) voice sternly ordering you to be quiet, cry out even more loudly – shout! – “I don’t know what Bible you’re reading or where you got that from, but the God I know in this Bible and the God I’m reminded of each week at my church is a God of goodness and mercy, who makes his goodness and mercy known – God is described as a forgiving father rushing out to embrace the prodigal son, a God who not only is not horrified by me when I turn to him but who is delighted, who throws a party, who speaks of angels rejoicing in heaven…and say “help me.”
Because what happens when Bartimaeus keeps yelling?
What’s your cry? What’s your request?
...and when you hear the voices trying to silence your prayer, can you call out all the more...
...praying like Bartimaeus?