What do you want?
October 26, 2018, Words By: Kris Rocke, Image By: "The Widow's Mite"by Jesus Mafa
If you’ve been connected with Street Psalms for very long, you’ve heard us quote the poet E.E. Cummings, “The beautiful answer is always preceded by the more beautiful question.”
Beautiful questions yield beautiful answers. They open space for the Spirit to work, and involve us in our own transformation. Ultimately, they free us to see in new ways and act creatively. On the other hand, small questions yield small answers. The Japanese word “mu” can be understood to mean “un-ask the question.” Mu is the appropriate response when the question is too small fortruth to emerge. Throughout the Gospels Jesus is, in effect, saying “mu.” He is helping us find larger more beautiful questions, and he uses questions of his own to get us there.
In this week’s text, Jesus asks perhaps the most beautiful question of all. “What do you want?” Given that Bartimaeus is blind, the question may seem rhetorical, but if you’ve ever tried to answer the question honestly, you know how difficult it is. It’s a query that plumbs the depths of his being. Jesus is asking Bartimaeus to locate and name his desire.
Transformation always happens at the level of desire.
Rene Girard* recognized this exact thing: what makes us human is our highly developed capacity to imitate desire. He argued that unlike instincts, (i.e. survival, food, reproduction) which are hardwired into our biology, desires are “mimetic;” in other words, they are imitated and socially constructed. To put it more clearly, we do not have our own desires. Instead, we imitate or borrow the desires of others—what Girard would call “mimetic desire.”
Of course, it is hard for us to admit that our desires do not originate in us; doing so directly contradicts the romantic lie we tell ourselves—that we actually have our own desires and therefore we truly are an autonomous self. We, especially those of us from highly individualistic cultures, want to believe that there is a distinct and stable “I” inside us that is separate from all others. We tell ourselves this lie so that we don’t have to face the fact that we are socially constructed beings, largely dependent on others to tell us what we want.
As the cartoon makes clear, marketers understand mimetic desire quite well. The question is not whether we borrow our desires from others. The question is from which other(s) do we borrow them?
So what does this have to do with Bartimaeus?
First, notice that Bartimaeus is not fixated on his blindness as we might expect. The object of his desire is not physical sight. He cries out for mercy. The crowd “sternly” orders him to remain silent, but Bartimaeus “shouts” even louder to Jesus, “Have mercy on me!”
Blind Bartimaeus sees something the crowd cannot. He sees the possibility of mercy and wants it. He does not borrow his desire from the crowd. Instead, he borrows it from the Merciful One and exercises his voice with great courage.
Can we see?
Bartimaeus is distinct from the crowd. The crowd angrily insists that he remain silent (as well as blind), but Bartimaeus breaks with the crowd’s desire, with much fear and trembling I would imagine. It’s a dangerous thing to defy the crowd, especially if the crowd thinks that you are cursed by God. Remember, if you were blind or lame or deaf or poor it was commonly assumed these were signs of God’s curse for you or your family’s sin.
The cry for mercy amidst the chaos of the crowd stops Jesus in his tracks. “Jesus stood still.” It’s a striking image. Jesus calls Bartimaeus out of the crowd and asks, “What do you want?”
It’s at this point that Bartimaeus wants to see—to see with his eyes what he’s already seen with his heart—the Merciful One who inspired his desire in the first place. Bartimaeus desires according to the desire of Jesus. Jesus praises that desire and calls it faith. He says to Bartimaeus, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus sees what he saw and follows Jesus.
Desire is faith. When borrowed from Jesus that desire makes us well.
From whom are you borrowing your desires?
What do you really want?