Mark 10:46 - 52
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
I was reflecting on this encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus, and the thing that struck me was Jesus' first question to the man who was crying out for mercy. What do you want me to do for you?
What we think other people might want... is not always what they do want. I am quite committed to the idea that people generally know what they need in a given situation -- or if they don't know, they have what they need to figure it out.
I believe in this rather deeply. That we should respect people enough to give them what they want to be given. So, maybe asking what that is would be a good idea... and I don't think we always do that.
Sometimes, how we try to help has more to do with us than with the people we would like to help. This can happen in close interpersonal relationships, or in well-intentioned donations to people we've never met.
I remember overhearing a Nicaraguan friend talk about their surprise when someone who worked for an international aid organization told them "we go into rural communities and find out what they want and work to get it for them." My friend thought "Surely you mean you give them what they need?" He inquired a little more and was assured that this person in fact meant what they said -- that they ask communities what they want. For the friend, the example that convinced him was the employee saying "no, if what they want is a satellite dish, we help them get it."
Now, a lot of times, we don't totally understand (or maybe we just don't think about) the needs that TV can fill.
But we would do well, when friends or strangers in need are crying out for mercy, to emulate Jesus and ask: What do you want me to do for you?