Dear Sisters and Brothers,
The twelve apostles and all the other disciples (men and women) must have understood that Jesus was having frequent confrontations with Pharisees and Scribes. So, when Jesus started leading the disciples toward Jerusalem, many worried because it was the center of power of the political/religious parties that opposed Jesus.
They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
People are worried, and Jesus tells them that things will not go well in Jerusalem. Based on what happens later, the disciples don’t really believe what he is telling them. Jesus warns them of his execution before it happens, but it seems to come as a shocking surprise to his followers.
Based on what is said next, people’s minds were on other things. James and John seem confident that Jesus will depose Herod and claim the throne in the Jerusalem palace.
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
There is something very wrong with the way James and John speak this to Jesus: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” To what teacher on earth does that sound appropriate? To speak it to Jesus sounds incredibly disrespectful.
James and John are still “the sons of thunder” (their nickname). They are all youthful strength and enthusiasm, but without a clear understanding of their situation. Assuming that Jesus is headed to an earthly throne, they want to be his major officers of court. Jesus says “no,” because the people at his right and left hand have already been chosen. But Jesus does say that they will drink the same cup and be baptized in the way that he will be baptized. They don’t realize that he is speaking of the cup of death and the baptism of blood. He is letting James and John know that they will both be martyred (killed for their faith). James would be executed by King Herod Agrippa around the year 44 AD. We don’t know the details of John’s death, but he is often confused with John of Patmos, the author of the book of Revelations. No-one knows for sure, but the authors of the Gospel of John, the letters of John, and the book of Revelations seem to be later followers of the John the fisherman.
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
It must be clear to all that James and John were again trying to establish their importance above the other disciples. They were part of the central three who were closest to Jesus, but by asking this, they are challenging Simon Peter. Jesus’ response is to reject the system used by the Gentiles (Greeks and others like them) who always had a “pecking order” or hierarchy. Once again, he tells them that the path to greatness is a path of humble service, but they were yet to understand that. He tells them that even he came to be the servant of all.
As they get closer to Jerusalem, they pass through Jericho, where we meet Bartimaeus, a blind man who has been forced to beg to survive. With no one to take him to Jesus through the press of the crowd, Bartimaeus shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He is so loud that people try to quiet him down.
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
After James and John said, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask,” Jesus says to Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus reveals his desire to be a servant of all, and by answering Bartimaeus’s words, he does not deny that he is a son (or descendant) of David.
Jesus heals the man and his sight is restored. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus spoke to the rich man who walked away after Jesus said, “follow me,” but now Bartimaeus follows Jesus without being asked.
Questions to Ponder:
As hearers of the Gospel, we are confronted with two questions:
- Shall we follow Jesus?
- How shall we follow Jesus (in terms of our attitude and expectations)?