Pop Quiz. Identify the correct company to which these advertising jingles are associated:

“You deserve a break today”

“Have it your way”

“Rule the Air”[1]

Fascinating how advertising agencies craft a need for a product while feeding the human ego. The underlying message in these jingles is that it really is all about you.

Unfortunately, this mentality has crept into our ability to read and correctly apply God’s Word. Case in point: Jesus’ question to Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” In countless Bible study circles and even intimate prayer sessions, without any regard to the context and intent of Mark’s recording of this event (10:46-52), the question is immediately applied to us, “What do we want Jesus to do for us?” It’s as if Jesus is patiently standing by, just waiting for us to ask him what we want him to do? The result is what can be referred to as a hermeneutical wedgie. Something’s uncomfortably wrong.

From his cries out to Jesus, it is interesting who Bartimaeus understood Jesus to be: Son of David, Messiah, Savior, the One sent from God, the Christ. This Son of David was one who could extend mercy. Mercy. It is God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress. It is the way God is toward his creation. When Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” It’s not because he didn’t know, but because of the answer Bartimaeus is prompted to give. Bartimaeus’ answer reveals a humble and needy heart.

In an attempt to be a good hermeneutician, one must ask if this question is asked by Jesus elsewhere. And it is. Fifteen verses earlier. The exact same question is asked of two of Jesus’ own disciples, James and John. Their response differs from Bartimaeus’ both in words and motive. Here’s are the interesting contrasts:

James and John’s answer reveals the pride in their request to sit in a position of authority

Bartimaeus sits along the roadside in the dust and makes no demands for glory but cries out from his wretched poverty.

James and John with their physical eyes remained in spiritual blindness

Blind Bartimaeus saw more with his spiritual eyes. Allow my physical eyes to see what my spiritual eyes already knew to be true

James and John’s request was still aligned with the structures of the world

Bartimaeus: Knew Jesus to be the Messiah. The one who could extend mercy. His submission aligned with kingdom purposes.

James and John probably saw David as a warrior king and thus Jesus would be a warrior king as well, saving the Jews from Roman oppression.

Bartimaeus saw this King as the One who would demonstrate his authority by healing and showing mercy.

Bartimaeus probably wasn’t privy to the disciples’ answer to Jesus’ question, but were the disciples present to hear Bartimaeus’ understanding of who Jesus was and his answer to Jesus’ question then, "What do you want me to do for you?" Probably.

Do our conversations with God reflect more of the jingles that center around me or do they reflect a greater understanding of Who this Jesus is? Do they reflect a deep acknowledgement of this Son of David, Holy One, One sent from God, Righteous Judge, Son of the Most High God, Exalted One, Redeemer, Lifter of my head, Lover of my soul, Commanding King of Kings, Mighty Conqueror, Merciful One? Do our prayers reflect our deep and basic need for mercy?

George Swinnock, an English Puritan, says this about God’s mercies:

Meditate upon his mercies to you from birth. Look at the dangers you have been delivered from, the journeys you have been protected in, the seasonable help he has sent you, the suitable support he has afforded you in distress, the counsel he has given you in doubts, and the comforts he has provided you in sorrow and darkness. These are present with you in meditation. Every breath in your life is a gift of mercy. Do not forget the former favours bestowed on you and your family. An empty perfume bottle still smells when the perfume is gone. Then meditate upon your present mercies. How many do you enjoy—your house, family, body, and soul, are all full of blessings! Think of them particularly. Spread them out like jewels to your view. Meditate on how freely they are bestowed, on their fullness and greatness. But O, your soul’s mercies—the image of God, the blood of Christ, eternal life, and seasons of grace! Your whole life is a bundle of mercies. These stir us up to bless the Giver. Then meditate on God to whom we pray. O how we are ashamed of our drops when we stand by the ocean! Mediate on his mercy and goodness.

This melody is brought to my mind often. How about yours?

What a merciful, merciful, merciful God

What a merciful, merciful, merciful God

What a merciful, merciful, merciful God

What a merciful, merciful, merciful God You are.