In two of the last two weeks our pastors have offered messages that focused (in one case it seemed inadvertent) on this salient fact of faith: our lives will be immeasurably great — incalculably awesome — if we put others in place of us. That is, if we put them first.
In one, the fellow went through some points he’d culled from a John Ortberg book (which name escapes me, or I would link to it) in which Mr. Ortberg lists many personality styles on the basis of their strengths and makes a case that our greatest abilities are the source of our deepest flaws, and not coincidentally our most grievous sin.
Passing over particulars, let me note that in this list there developed one single difference, across all styles, that accounted for whether a personality trait became a source of saintliness or the sin.
It was whether the person who possessed the trait thought — acted — primarily of and for himself, or others.
That is, if one used, for instance, leadership qualities for self-aggrandizement and “personal growth” as such is euphemistically known, this produced narcissism and pride. If leadership was applied to self-sacrifice and a life of service — diakonos + doulos, let us say — it spawned true greatness.
The next week a different pastor provided a similar suggestion — namely, that by love of others does our soul grow to the proportion imagined in, say, The Great Divorce, where the heavenly spirits are immense, while the shuffling shades of hell are miniscule to the nth degree.
In Mark 10, Jesus asks the same question twice in succession — just 15 verses separate the two moments — and He receives different answers each time.
He asks James and John, who have incautiously approached Him on the matter of who gets to be vice-Christ at the end of time, “What do you want me to do for you?” Then he asks the same query of a man blind, begging, and braying — a trifecta of inappropriateness if ever there was one.
Both seem to ask for something for themselves but — though I am not certain of this — the first seems clearly to be about who gets the juice someday: the Sons of Thunder begin by saying they want Jesus to do, “whatever we ask of you,” and Jesus genially replies, “OK fellas … such as?” In the next verse they demand honor, while tossing Christ a bone: “in your glory.”
Jesus, as was His wont, sees right through it, and suggests that getting what Jesus is going to get — they are on their way to Jerusalem at just that moment — is not a thing they should be demanding, and certainly not lightly.
The other 10 disciples, natch, are none too pleased — and please remember this would include firebrand Peter, and Judas, not a guy known for his humility.
Then again, Bartimaeus is no shrinking violet either.
He is shouting at the Lord. Everyone else is shushing him. Clearly this guy does not know the pecking order: if you’re blind or begging or both, fuggedaboutit. “Well I never!“ … “How rude!“ … and suchlike. So he shouts louder.
The Lord asks for him, and then we’re all jumping to be part of the solution: “Lucky you, bro.“ … “C’mon now, c’mon … get a move on.“ … and suchlike.
He gets the same question from the Lord as the two men Christ is currently training for ministry, two men who are undeniably marked out for future good — nay, great — things.
“What do you want me to do for you?“
But Bartimaeus seems to ask for something for himself, too: his sight.
Jesus saw something different in this request. Perhaps because Bartimaeus was asking for something personal, or because it was for helping himself do things rather than demanding Christ define outcomes. That suggests itself.
As T. S. Eliot said, “For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.“
And it just feels different, too.
Then, too, there is this.
Right after he gets his sight back, Bartimaeus followed Him on the way.