Read Mark 10:32-52
“What do you want me to do for you?”
James and John, whom Jesus tellingly has nicknamed the sons of thunder, come to Jesus with a request (a demand?) in the form of what must be one of the funniest lines in all of the scriptures: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” What they lack in subtlety and self-awareness they certainly make up for in boldness. [Speaking of ‘self-awareness’: when we are done chuckling at their all-too-human foibles, we might do well to remember the time(s) that we have boldly undertaken the task of telling God how to do his job.]
Jesus’ reply is both disarming and penetrating. He doesn’t respond how I would respond to my children, for instance, if they spoke to me this way. I will give you one chance to re-phrase what you just said to me! Rather, he says, “What do you want me to do for you?” This is not an innocuous question. It is the question that exposes the state of the human heart.
What do you want? What do you desire? What do you love to such an extent that you are willing to throw at it your time, your energy, your money, your anxiety, your self, to get it?
What you desire above all else, you love above all else. What you love above all else, you worship. What you worship—if it’s not God—will eat you alive, as David Foster Wallace points out and as Jesus knew centuries prior. Jesus is seeking, with this question, to expose idols of the human heart.
James and John utter fail to play their idolatries close to the chest: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” What do they want? Rather than pray as Jesus taught them, Thine is the power and the glory, they want glory and power for themselves. Idolatry.
What do you want? Power and glory, like James and John? Control? Comfort? Acceptance?
Where are you throwing your money, your time and your energy?
What do your anxieties tell you about what really matters to you?
The season of Advent is as good a season as any, I reckon, to work on rooting out the growth of idolatry in our hearts. This requires of course allowing Jesus’ question to penetrate our hearts—as painful as that may be. Even more painful, however, is putting the idol to death. And yes, Jesus unsentimentally and without flinching asks us to put it to death. He asks us to bring every idolatrous desire to the cross for execution. He asks us, moreover, to do this again and again, until at last, one day, that one great desire, the desire for the love of God, has totally and without remainder won our hearts. This present pain is all to a good purpose.
For finally, on that Day we will say to him, “Lord, we want you to give us whatever we ask.” He will reply, “What do you want me to give you?” We will respond, “Just you, Lord.” He never has and never will turn down that request.
Come, Lord Jesus.