Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage (Mark 10:35-52) transports me to the guitar store scene in the movie Wayne’s World, where Mike Myers uses the “may I help you” riff to get the clerk’s attention so he can try out the classic Fender Strat. In the Mark passage a couple of disciples and later a blind man use riffs of their own to get Jesus’ attention, and he obliges both with an agreeable what can I do for you? Here is Jesus, Pied Piper of Palestine, out on the road, working the crowd, taking requests. As obliging as He sounds, though, the first of the two very different encounters in the passage reveals something less than accommodating about Jesus. He apparently doesn’t buy the old adage that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. As the song says, sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven, including the questions and requests of those who follow Jesus.
The story here reminds me of my guitar-teaching days, when I sure could have used the sign from the guitar store in Wayne’s World: “NO Stairway to Heaven.” I got plenty tired of having wannabe Jimmy Pages come requesting that I teach them that classic opening riff. Where do I put my left hand? What do I do with my right hand? I imagine that’s how Jesus felt when the Zebson Brothers came to Him with their request. Jesus, we want to be on your right hand and left hand when you’re on your heavenly throne. Jimmy and Johnny weren’t the first to feel sure that all the glitter of heavenly power was gold; they followed a long line of folk ready to climb that stairway and be a part of the command center. Their desire was as old as the tower of Babel. Their request was as worn out as my guitar students’.
But don’t we all have those misgiven thoughts and desires at one time or another? Isn’t it part of our human nature to want a little more power when we feel somebody’s boot on our neck? With a word we could get what we came for. But Jesus quickly cuts off these requests. NO Stairway – Denied. We’re asking the wrong question; Jesus tells us this is the question of the archies. No, not the singing comic book characters. It’s the Greek word Jesus uses, archeins – the rulers – as in monarchs, oligarchs, tetrarchs. Jesus says this arc toward authority, this longing for control, is present in every ethnon – every people group, every culture. While Martin Luther King may have been right that the long arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, it may be just as true that the long arc of human nature bends toward an inevitable longing to lord it over somebody. Isn’t that the never-ending struggle of faith communities – the alluring appeal of authority mingling with the clarion call to compassion?
But if those of us in the faith community have ears to hear, the Piper will lead us to reason. Even as the world gets crazy with power – Not so with you, Jesus says. He as much as tells the disciples that if they only knew what the real power of heaven was all about, they’d model holy anarchy. Not the anarchy of destruction and dysfunction, but the anarchy that resists all temptations of control, the kind that leads people to wind on down the dusty roads of life washing feet instead of wielding power (the word Jesus uses for servant, diakono, literally means through the dust). Yes, there are two paths you can go by – muscle or mercy, control or compassion – and there’s always time to change the road you’re on.
An illustration of the better road lay right in front of Jesus and his disciples, in the form of Bartimaeus, a man living on the edge who could have passed for one of the Blind Boys of Alabama. Talk about suffering here below, let’s keep talking about Jesus. Blind Barty’s longing was in line with the power of heaven. What can I do for you, Jesus asks. Teacher, I just want to see. His head was humming with a better desire, one that tapped into Jesus’ power – the power of mercy and compassion.
The Piper’s calling us all to join Him now. And it makes me wonder – what requests do I make when I play my “may I help you” riff and gain Jesus’ attention? Does my prayer life reveal more of a desire to hold sway or a longing to be healed and gain sight? I’ll ponder that while listening to Rodrigo y Gabriela play one of the best Stairway covers I’ve ever heard. Give it a listen as you ponder your own prayer life and the deepest desires of your heart.