Bible Study

What Do You Want Me to Do for You?

“Our greatest need is not power and glory of our own, but mercy and compassion on our broken places.” by Major Valerie Carr

The tone of voice when speaking with someone gives a lot of clues to what is actually being said. Many of us grew up probably being told, “It’s not what you said, but how you said it.” It’s possible that a simple phrase can carry a depth of emotional connotation based on the inflection of the speaker. Try this experiment: say the phrase “It is raining.” Now, say it with a disappointed inflection. How about an angry tone? Or an excited one? How about as if confused? (Hopefully you were alone if you tried that out loud!) This is just a fraction of the different possible meanings to that repeated phrase. 

This month we are taking a look at a question Jesus repeated in the Gospels. In the book of Mark, chapter 10, Jesus is recorded asking the same question in two scenarios. He asks both the sons of Zebedee and Blind Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36, 51 NIV). As we take a closer look at these two stories, we seek to discover our own answer to that question. What is it you are looking for Jesus to do for you today? How might these passages help clarify how we answer the Savior’s question?

Jesus is approached by James and John, who have a favor to ask of Jesus (Mark 10:35). Their answer to Jesus’ question is to request to “sit in places of honor next to [Jesus]” in the coming glorious Kingdom (v 37). Jesus tells them that they “don’t know what [they] are asking!” (v 38). He responds that to be that close to Him is to choose suffering and sorrow and, even though they are convinced of their ability to endure these circumstances, “God has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen” (v 40). James and John, sons of Zebedee, do not receive what they requested from Jesus, but they do succeed in upsetting the rest of the disciples with their selfish request (v 41).

In the second scenario, “a blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road” as Jesus was going by (Mark 10:46). As part of a great crowd that had gathered to follow Jesus in Jericho, Bartimaeus begins shouting to get Jesus’ attention. As he raises his voice, straining to be heard over the crowd, he cries out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v 47). The crowd attempts to dismiss Bartimaeus from his pursuit of Jesus, “but he only shouted louder” (v 48). Jesus notices the man and calls out for him to come forward. The blind beggar answers Jesus’ question with: “Teacher … I want to see!” (v 51). Immediately Bartimaeus receives his sight and “follow[s] Jesus down the road” (v 52).

The fact that Mark records the same question in both scenes helps us understand that the Gospel writer intentionally wants us to compare and contrast what is happening. In their commentary on Mark, Carter and Tanzer suggest that “James and John, two members of the twelve apostles, ask inappropriately and without comprehension; Bartimaeus asks appropriately and faithfully that he might see again.” The problem is that the disciples came to Jesus for selfish reasons without understanding who Jesus truly is and what it means to follow Him.

The two disciples approached Jesus, with a motivation of receiving personal benefit and glory. Their enthusiasm was centered on a worldly pursuit of power and authority rather than an understanding of servant leadership. In the NASB version, Mark 10:35 reads: “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” The brothers approach Jesus demanding a benefit for themselves. The disciples misunderstood who Jesus truly was as a suffering servant. He tells them in verse 45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others.” They approached Jesus for the wrong reasons, looking for power and authority, not seeking for their lives to reflect who He truly is. 

It’s a strange way to approach the God of the universe, but all too often we too can come with very selfish demands not too different from these disciples. We come to God asking for more: more money, more fame, more importance, more comfort. We mistakenly assume that our long history as a believer, or our good behavior in public, or our own self righteousness, is reason enough for Jesus to give us better social standing, a better appointment or a better outcome. When we approach Jesus asking Him to do us a favor, as the brothers did, we too misunderstand Jesus’ identity and what that identity means as a follower of His. If our motivation is power and selfish glory, we are blind to Jesus as the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12). 

The blind beggar Bartimaeus understood who Jesus was and he came in his brokenness seeking restoration from the Savior. Mark records him calling out “Jesus, Son of David” twice (v 47, 48). He addresses Jesus with a messianic title and calls out for the only thing he truly needs: mercy. A Bible dictionary defines “mercy” as helping someone in need out of compassion for them. Bartimaeus is seeking help from the Savior. He is seeking for compassion on his situation from the only source of unfailing love. While unable to physically see, Bartimaeus does not suffer from the blindness that afflicts the disciples. He can see Jesus for who He is. 

In Mark L. Strauss’ commentary on the book of Mark he writes that “[the purpose of Jesus’ question to James and John] was to expose pride and manipulation; here it is to discern the nature of the request and to provoke greater faith.” Bartimaeus knew that Jesus could restore him and received his chance to ask directly. He refused to be discouraged or distracted from seeking the Savior (v 48). His answer to Jesus’ question reveals his desire to be healed by the Great Healer. His response displays his heartfelt desire to follow the Savior who healed him (v 52).

We have the same opportunity as Bartimaeus. Our greatest need is not power and glory of our own, but mercy and compassion on our broken places. Jesus calls out to each of us, just as He did for the blind beggar in this chapter. The wrecked spaces in our heart, our mind and our attitudes can be healed by Jesus! The faltering hope, the broken marriage, the struggle to trust for tomorrow, the sinful behavior that has you tangled up … all those hurts and struggles can find mercy, compassionate help, in Jesus. 

These moments in Mark call us to think of our own request of Jesus. We consider moments when we have approached Jesus “to do us a favor” (v 35) or times when we have heard Him “tell [us] to come here” (v 49). We are challenged to consider our motivation and the nature of our answer to His question: What do you want me to do for you? What do we truly want and need? Whatever our need or desire, these scenes in Mark remind us to remember who Jesus is and answer Him accordingly. 

Questions to ponder

  • How would you answer the question: What do you want me to do for you?
  • In light of your answer to Jesus’ question, who can you talk to about what you want from the Savior? Maybe a corps officer/pastor, a therapist or a trusted believer friend?


You can receive the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ by praying something like the following:

Dear God, know I am a sinner. I need your forgiveness and grace. I believe that Christ paid the penalty for my sin, and He died in my place, and He rose from the dead. I invite Jesus Christ to come into my life as Savior. Thank You for saving me from my sin and making me Your child. Help me to grow and learn how to serve You. Amen.

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