Mark 10 is part of my work for my book on Mark. Have you ever noticed that people quote proof texts to prove their points? In narrative, proof texts nearly cannot prove anything we want it to say. We do however see some repeated key phrases within the same author’s writing worth noting.
In this installment, I will show how biblical authors can use unrelated accounts but using similar vocabulary to make a comparison in order to convey a message. Of great interest is the pairing of the disciples’ request and the healing of Bartimaeus. These two unrelated stories are interesting in that Mark used some of the same vocabulary to show that the Bartimaeus story did not just follow the disciples’ request sequentially but that there is a lesson to be learned here. In this blog, I only wish to focus on one aspect: Jesus’ question.
I read an article that points to the same question being asked twice. This got me thinking. Mk. 10.36 has Jesus asking the disciples “What do you want me to do for you?” after the disciples demanded Jesus to grant them their request as if they were in charge. In fact, the outcome of the story shows that they had more misunderstandings about Jesus, as Jesus did not grant them their request.
In the story of Bartimaeus, Jesus asked the same question in Mk. 10.51, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus then granted healing to the blind man. The results are the contrast in the two stories. The blind man probably investigated about Jesus before he shouted for Jesus to help him. What is the contrast? Throughout Mark, the disciples were rebuked by Jesus because, quite often, their requests were unreasonably ignorant. Yet, by now, they were approaching Jerusalem with Jesus. They had followed Jesus all these three years. The blind man did not. Yet, Jesus granted the blind man his wishes. Surely, Jesus taught the disciples more information, at least much more than the information the blind man gathered. What is this contrast trying to teach us? The question “What do you want me to do for you” is really not about what Jesus could do for His followers, at least not in Mark. Mark took the question towards a different direction of revealing about the disciples’ understanding. Mark seems to be saying that more information does not equal to understanding. The result of the healing has the healed Bartimaeus following Jesus. Even with incomplete information, he was able to follow Jesus, no less than the disciples. Perhaps the formerly blind man was just lucky. Who knows, but the fact remains that Jesus granted his request.
The question “What do you want me to do for you?” does not try to solicit information as much as exposing people’s understanding or misunderstanding about God. Disciples had all the information but lacked understanding. The blind man had some information but luckily got the right understanding. The lesson is clear. You don’t need all the information to get it right some of the time. Information does not always create wisdom or understanding. Whether people have complete or partial information and understanding, they can still follow Jesus. This is a fitting message for our information age.