What to Ask For

NL Year 2  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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I remember as a kid growing up looking through the Sears and Toys R Us catalogs for presents and how monumental of a decision it seemed to pick the right presents. It was important to know what to ask for. They were your Christmas presents after all. You needed to make sure that it was something that you would enjoy and get a lot of use out of it. And now today as a parent my girls have the privilege of doing the same kind of thing only with the Amazon and Target catalogs. And in case you didn’t know, yes Amazon sends physical catalogs for you to look through at Christmastime.
Honestly this idea of knowing what to ask for doesn’t end as a kid. We often remind ourselves and one another to be assertive and make our requests known. Or to use a quote from Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. If we don’t ask we’ll never know what we may be able to do or get or achieve. I could probably find some other quotes from famous or rich people, but I can assume they would say similar things about achieving our goals in life. You need to be assertive, motivated, and reaching for those things that you want in life.
Honestly this was no different than how it was in the Greco-Roman society during the time of Jesus. If you wanted to get ahead in life you had to place yourself with those above you in society and you had to work hard to try to move up the social structure. You had to know who to talk to and what to ask for. Who to associate with and everything else in between.
This exactly what then happens with James and John as they ask for the seats at the right and the left hand of Jesus when he is in his glory. The right hand of someone meant to be the very next person in power to the one on the throne or position of power, and the person on the left was the person just below the person on the right. So in essence when Jesus comes into his power in whatever form they felt that meant, they are asking to be the next two in line. If you think about it from their perspective they were part of the 12. They were also a part of several situations where it was just a select few of the 12: 1. When Simon Peter’s mother is healed, 2. when Jairus’ daughter is healed, and 3. At the transfiguration. One commentary points this out and rightly says that with the traditional two seats at the right and left they are really just trying to oust Peter from one of those spots. They are as I started out today, being assertive in trying to secure the best for themselves by asking for what they consider the most important thing. Jesus discusses it with them and ultimately corrects them and all the disciples with a discussion about rulers and authority, but before we get there, there is something else I feel is vitally important for us to see first.
Blind Bartimaeus. This story stands in stark contrast to what we just heard and happens right here so that we can see these two stories as counter weights to one another. We can see this when we look at or listen to the connecting phrases: Jesus asks both of them, “what do you want me to do for you?” But let’s look at what they ask for. James and John want to sit at his right and left hand when Jesus enters his glory. Bartimaeus wants to see again. James and John want positions of power and prestige, Bartimaeus wants to be restored to his community.
Not only does Jesus let the Sons of Thunder know through his conversation with the disciples that power and authority is not what we should be asking for or seeking, but then Jesus lives it out in the healing of this blind man. The way of following Jesus is to serve others, to help them achieve wholeness so that they too can experience the joy of God’s love for them. Even notice way that Jesus helps to make this point. At first he tells them that if they want to be great then they must be a servant, but if you want to be first among everyone, like James and John has just asked, then you will not a servant but a slave of all.
It reminds me of part of Jesus sermon on the mount from Matthew’s gospel when he discusses the idea of not worrying about things like eating or drinking or clothing, becuase life is more than those things. While this conversation is about worry it ends with Matthew 6:33 “Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” So, likewise, when you we are asking for things and striving for things make sure to desire first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.
In other words, when we ask for things, consider what we are asking for or seeking to do or achieve in connection to our relationship with Jesus. Are we seeking power, wealth, and personal fortune while at the same time pushing others out so that we can achieve those things? Or are we seeking the wealth, health and overall wellbeing of all people so that we may all experience and know the love of God as found in Christ Jesus?
While I have been contrasting James and John to Bartimaeus, what we ultimately need to know is that Jesus loved all of them, in their goodness and in their flaws. Jesus knew there was more to James and John than this momentary assertion of power. Jesus knew there was more to Bartimaeus than his blindness. Jesus sees the whole of us and uses the whole of us and loves the whole of us. That doesn’t mean we, like James and John, don’t need to continue to work to align ourselves with God’s will more and more, but when we don’t we know that we can ask for and receive forgiveness for our own blindness and selfishness. We can move on and seek God’s kingdom and righteousness with the confidence that as we journey through our wilderness we, like the blind man, follow Jesus on the way. That unconditional love and grace is the one thing we should always ask for and seek and rely on, no matter where we are. Amen.
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