March 13, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.

What do you want me to do for you?

If Jesus were to ask you that question, how would you answer him, now, while there is still time?
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger

By Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Perhaps I should have put the title in quotation marks. It is, after all, not a question I often think of asking when I encounter someone who comes to me in need, with some kind of complaint — about me or someone else. My gut reaction might often be — to think to myself, “what’s the matter with you?” — something I would not dare say directly to the supplicant, at least not in those words. When I see something broken, or encounter a person who is, in some way, “broken,” my first impulse is often to want to fix it — or them.

I catch myself wondering then that I am not really treating that person any more than if they were an object, a thing. Before even listening to the person, I am already plotting to “get on” with (i.e., end) the conversation, devising ways to “deal with” them and, essentially, make them — the problem — go away. Because whether I am honest enough to admit it to myself, I do not really want to get involved, but rather stop them from being upset (as they seem to me to be) and, therefore, to prevent them from upsetting me. 

Now I do not typically think this through so cruelly as that, but all too often, when I examine my conscience, it occurs to me that my habitual way of “ministering” to people — a sanitized word for treatment of their issues — is actually quite dismissive, condescending and lacking in compassion. Do I really want to enter into their sorrow and suffering, or do I prefer to cure or sanitize them so that they will just go away? 

Please do not confuse this observation with either a personal confession, or worse, a sign of humility. It is neither. It is merely a statement about my spiritual blindness to the reality of God’s presence in every person who stands before me in a wounded, vulnerable and longing state of being. Which is how most of us are anyway any time. While I am coming to learn that every person is a troubled soul longing for the love and mercy of a generous and forgiving God, I am less prepared to allow God to reach my heart through what the psalmist calls “the cry of the poor” which the Lord always hears.

If I want to be a good, or at least, minimally adequate disciple of Christ, do I not need to be open to receiving “the mind and heart of Christ,” as the actions of Jesus on earth reveal so clearly? The question at the head of this article — “What do you want me to do for you?” — as I am sure my dear readers realized from the start, is not one that comes from me. It is the question Jesus asked of men who approached him, crying out for something that they hoped he could give them. And what were they asking for?

Interestingly enough, we learn that they were blind. Fair enough. Blind people all want to see, one would think. Yet Jesus does not seem to presume that is necessarily what (or all) they want from him. Or why else would he pose the question, “what do you want me to do for you?” Is he just being rhetorical or is he trying to draw something out of them that he knows can only be articulated by them?

Of course, the response is “Lord, that I may see,” and Jesus obliges immediately with an affirmative answer, after which they walk away. The sense one gets, however, is that Jesus would have preferred if they did not just walk away. It seems as though he were ready to give them much more, like he was trying to draw out of them a desire for much more than just a fix or a cure. Like he longed to engage them, to keep them with him and to bless them with the riches that go beyond what they could imagine.

What I am thinking of is the many other encounters Jesus had with people who were hungry or thirsting in some way, often for more than the food and drink that only satisfy for a day. The woman at the well, from whom Jesus asked for drink, himself thirsting for the longing love in her soul that would not be satiated by all the misplaced affections in her unhappy life. The paralytic whose sins he readily forgave, and at a much higher price (as we ultimately learn from Good Friday) than the almost “tacked on” medical cure of his physical paralysis. The examples go on. The one leper who came back to thank him, who at least saw the physical cure as an invitation to some kind of a relationship, albeit a brief one in this case.

Reflecting as I have been doing on how I act and react in the face of many persons who seek me out — my counsel, assistance or approval — it begins to dawn on me that what they are really asking is not for advice on how to live better to even be better. They are seeking, quite literally, an affirmation of their humanity. That they matter. Whether because of or in spite of their suffering, woundedness or state of devastation, they approach me mainly to know if I see and accept them as a human being. Isn’t that what all of us want from a friend?

Any number of survivors — of all kinds of abuse and misfortune — have reminded me that it is neither helpful nor healing if I attempt to set the ways or terms in which I think they will be best served. The truth is, as many of us learn too late at times, that people have pretty good ideas of what they need to become whole, to recover from the blows that may have beaten them down, but not defeated them. I am most grateful for the lessons I hope I am learning from such encounters with those whom Pope Francis sometimes calls “those in the peripheries.”

Where are those margins or peripheries? It may be tempting to think of them in geographical terms, as the people “out there” who live off our radar screen or outside the parameters of our everyday lives or our comfort zones. In fact, they may be closer to “home” than we think. Remember the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. That “great divide” that separates them forever was actually an attitude the nameless rich man carried with him into eternity for his blindness to see the poor man as his neighbor. 

Were Jesus to ask me that question, personally — what do you want me to do for you? — how would I answer him, now, while there is still time? Dare I ask, “Lord, that I may see?” And would I accept his offer to open my eyes to see my neighbor in need, not a subject to be fixed and dispatched, but a friend I do not yet know who may hold the key to my eternal salvation? “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did it to me.” Behold the image of God!

 @AlbanyDiocese


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