As a trial lawyer, I often think of asking that one question that will turn a case. It may be in cross-examination of a plaintiff or defendant, but in my mind it is a question at the most dramatic point of a trial that exposes the truth about a claim or defense.
Recognition of Need
In Mark 10, Jesus asks a blind man begging on the side of the road who calls out to him for help, “What do you want me to do for you?” It is almost uncomfortably obvious, but Jesus asks the question anyway. The blind man responds “Rabbi, I want to see” (Mark 10:51), thereby recognizing his need and utter inability to meet that need himself. The gospel account reports Jesus saying “’Go, your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road” (Mark 10:52).
Need for Recognition
While the miracle of Jesus restoring the man’s sight is spectacular enough, I don’t think that is the point of the story or his question being stated in Mark’s account. Just a few verses earlier, Jesus asks the exact same question, but this time of two of his closest followers, the Sons of Zebedee, James and John (Mark 10:36). But though the question was identical, the circumstances couldn’t be more different. James and John had approached Jesus first, expressing candidly a view that many people harbor secretly about Jesus: “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask” (Mark 10:35). Their mindset flips the relationship, acting as if the Messiah was sent to do our bidding, instead of the other way around. And when Jesus asks “What do you want me to do for you?”, their reply comes not from a recognition of need, but from a need for recognition: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37).
The Truth We Must See
No wonder the other disciples were indignant (Mark 10:41). Chances are that the blind man hadn’t heard Jesus deliver his Sermon on the Mount, but James and John surely had. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3), Jesus taught. James and John forgot that foundational truth, though, instead conveying a mindset into which we can easily lapse, namely that we deserve God’s favorable treatment because of who we are or what we’ve done. But the reminder from Jesus and Mark’s deliberate joining of these contrasting responses to Jesus’ one question is that God’s healing of our brokenness and redemption/restoration of our sinful selves is not a function of our merit, but rather of God’s grace. We cannot see that, however, without the sober recognition of our own need and utter inability to meet that need ourselves. We are spiritually bankrupt, and until we acknowledge that, the keys to the kingdom are beyond our grasp. Ironically, in this gospel reminder it is the blind beggar on the side of the road who saw that truth, and Jesus’ closest followers who were blind to it.