“What do you want me to do for you?”
“What do you want me to do for you?”
It is an existential question.
As we come here on this night to celebrate with the valedictorians and to encourage them as they leave the community of King’s College such questions as the purpose and meaning of life are vital.
Whilst, you may be focussed on exams and final assessment for the semester once these are over the transition out of this community into the wider community confronts each you with basic questions about your meaning and purpose.
This evening I want to explore the two stories and the two responses to Jesus question as a way of opening up the possibilities for your lives as young men.
Now I am aware that for some of you that you may not hear Jesus question, “What do you want me to do for you?” in the same way that I do because you may not share my faith. However, the question that Jesus is essentially asking is “What are you expecting from life?” Or, possibly even, “what do you think that the world owes you?”
How you answer these questions and what stories you listen to that shape your existence have a great impact not only on your lives but on the community around you and even the whole world.
So, what might we learn from the two interactions: the first between Jesus and two of his disciples, James and John: and, the second, between Jesus and the blind beggar named Bartimeaus.
When Jesus asks James and John, “What do you want me to do for you?” their response revolves around personal glory. They want to sit at Jesus left and right hand – they want Jesus to elevate them over and above others. Their goal in life, in following Jesus, is personal glory.
Now Greg, as the Master of King’s, often speaks of excellence in life. Striving for excellence in your chosen field as an engineer, a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor, in business or whatever it is that you have studied is appropriate. But Jesus’ challenge is to remind the disciples and us that this seeking of excellence is not so that we can attain glory and honour and have our 15 minutes of fame.
Life is not simply about your personal self-advancement especially if that seeking of power, position and wealth comes at the expense of other. There is a bigger picture.
This bigger picture is expounded in the story of Jesus’ interaction with Bartimeaus. Bartimeaus is a blind man and as such would probably have found himself ostracised from the community. In Jesus time a persona ailment was often interpreted as a sign that they had done something wrong and looking at the meaning of Bartimeaus’ name it actual means Son of the Unclean. The story teller Mark may have deliberately manipulated the name of the blind man to make this point. Bartimeaus was excluded – his life was stifled and stymied at ever point.
Central to his desire then is that Jesus will have mercy on him and when asked by Jesus “What do you want me to do for you?” his answer is to restore his sight. Restoring his sight will restore his life as he is drawn back into the community.
We may not realise how closely we are tied to Bartimeaus but for many us we too need a sense of mercy and a need to be restored to the fullness in the life of the community of this world.
We need mercy to be taught how to better to relate to others. We know misogyny, racism, and exclusion are still rife in the Australian community.
We need mercy to be transformed in how to better live in this world. We know of the impact of climate change and pollution and an obsession with growth in a consumer driven culture.
We need mercy to be taken to the fullness of the life that we can lead. We know that many of us struggle with depression and illness and anxiety in a highly pressurized culture.
All of these things are about shaping our lives around abundance in life not just for some but for the whole – for the common good.
How you will answer the question “What do you want me to do for you?” or “What are you expecting from life?” remains vital because it shapes how you will interact with others and whether you see your purpose and meaning as you seek excellence in life about elevating your own glory or building the whole community of life.
Which brings me to my last comment, often in ancient literature the key point of the story is found in the centre and sandwiched between the question “What do you want me to do for you?” is Jesus’ assertion, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant!”
The meaning and purpose of our lives is shaped by the stories that we buy in to and how we interpret their meaning into our lives. Jesus invites us all to be shaped by his story which is about serving others, restoring people like Bartimeaus and like you and I to the fullness of life and the potential we have to be part of the community of life in this world.
Jesus story is the story of God’s love for us and how God serves us by giving us life and reconciling us with God’s purposes.
So when confronted by the question “What do you want me to do for you?” or “What are you expecting from life?” I think the answer to the question is to seek excellence in life by using the gifts you have to serve others.
I wish you well in your final exams and assignments for this year but more importantly I pray that as you move from this community into the community of the world you might allow your life to be shaped in its meaning and purpose by a vision that is bigger than your own glory, crying out for mercy to be made into all that you can be for the sake of others as you use all that you are for the good of whole world.