The Gospel reading for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mark 10:46-52, gains much of its strength from its location in the Gospel of Mark. In the central portion of Mark, Jesus three times predicts his passion, with similar responses from his Apostles. In 8:31-33, after identifying Jesus as the Messiah, Peter rebukes Jesus for his claim that the Messiah must suffer and die. In 9:30-37, following Jesus’ second passion prediction, the Apostles argue about who is the greatest Apostle. Finally, in 10:32-45, immediately after Jesus predicts his passion for the third time, James and John say that "we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you" (10:35). There is a kind of stunning ordinariness in the requests that Jesus’ Apostles make – a desire for human greatness and success – which in James’ and John’s appeal has elements of hubris and arrogance. As chosen Apostles, a part of Jesus’ inner circle, they are now desirous to reap the fruits of their commitment, even if it angers the other Apostles (10:41). They are just looking out for number one: what’s the point of being the right hand (or left hand) man of the Messiah if there are no patronage appointments?
Jesus, in the whole of this passage, Mark 10:32-45, that precedes this week’s reading, teaches about the nature of power in the Kingdom of God. While the Gentile rulers "lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them," "it is not so among you" (10:42-43). In God’s kingdom, "whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all" (10:44). It is about forgoing power on the part of the Son of Man so that he can offer himself as "a ransom for many"(10:45). For his Apostles, it is about modeling their authority on that of the Son of Man: they are to become the Apostles for others. They are to become servants of those in need, not to seek self-aggrandizement or the perquisites of power.
In our passage, 10:46-52, Jesus’ model of power and authority is enacted in the scene with the blind beggar. The blind beggar becomes an annoying supplicant –"many rebuked him, telling him to be silent"– but he refuses to shut up, "calling out, all the more, ‘Son of David, have pity on me’" (10:48). But what is the difference between the blind beggar demanding from Jesus and James and John demanding from Jesus? Both of them are demanding something from Jesus. The difference is that James and John are demanding honor, glory and power, while the blind beggar is demanding nothing but Jesus’ attention and mercy. As it turns out his request is to be made whole: "Master, I want to see." Certainly this must be understood in a literal sense as a physical wholeness, but it can also be seen as a spiritual wholeness. Once the beggar can "see," he became a disciple of Jesus (10:52). His wholeness brought him to discipleship with Jesus. James and John already had that, but its value was diminished in light of their human desires and ambition. The blind beggar becomes the ideal disciple, faithful to Jesus, desirous of nothing more than the Kingdom of God.
The whole scene is a performance of what the Apostles’ task will be as servants of the Son of Man. First, they must represent the model of servanthood in which Jesus has instructed them, in word and in deed. Second, they must see the blind beggar as a model disciple, even if annoying and stubborn. He refuses to give up because his faith is firmly placed in the one who can heal. Third, they learn that "do for us whatever we ask of you" (10:35) is a selfish request, based in human desires for honor and glory, but if they remain faithful and persistent, they might hear from the mouth of the Master, as the blind beggar does, "What do you want me to do for you?" (10:51). The question is posed not just for the blind beggar, and not just for James and John, but for each of us. What is our answer?