Now you can't always get what you want,
You can't always get what you want,
Now you can't always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes, you just might find
You get what you need!
— Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, You Can't Always Get What You Want, 1969
The drive-through window at my local Burgerteria sends me into a minor panic. There are a dozen choices, every one mouth-watering delicious. I'm starving. I need food, but I want the right kind of food. Something memorable. Something to delight my palate without emptying my wallet. Something juicy, tangy, fresh and hot.
But what?! There are so many choices. I don't know what I want, and the woman with the screaming kids in the car behind me is fast losing her patience.
And here's the kicker: too often, the very thing I most want isn't what I need at all!
The ads on television are cleverly designed to make us want what they're selling. With the right pair of blue jeans, I could be King of the World! With the right credit card, I could live the life I deserve. With the right colored pill, all of my problems would vanish.
It's not true, of course. We know it's not true. But these claims resonate somewhere deep inside of us in an empty, aching spot that wants something, longs for something, needs something... real, something significant, something meaningful, something that will restore our hope.
We keep grasping for something that always seems to be just out of reach.
One day on a dusty road, Jesus encountered a blind man. The man thought he wanted to see. Perfectly understandable. Blindness is a tough gig. Even with today's technologies — cochlear implants, prosthetic limbs, computer speech recognition software — the blind still walk about tapping a cane and listening carefully for things that might kill them. In the first century blindness meant constant dependence on family and friends.
Sight is our most complex sense, and it can go wrong in dozens of ways. There can be complete blindness due to injury, a failure of the optic nerves, or damage to the mechanisms of the visual cortex. There can be color blindness, acute myopia, macular degeneration, cataracts, retinal detachments... We have no idea what this blind man suffered from, but Luke's account tells us that he was dependent on the crowd for information and had to be led to Jesus when he was called. It would seem his blindness was nearly complete.
I have always been struck by the question Jesus asks this man:
As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind beggar was sitting beside the road. When he heard the noise of a crowd going past, he asked what was happening. They told him that Jesus the Nazarene was going by. So he began shouting, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" ...
Jesus asked him, "What do you want Me to do for you?"
"Lord," he said, "I want to see!"
And Jesus said, "All right, receive your sight! Your faith has healed you."
Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus, praising God. And all who saw it praised God, too. — Luke 18:35-38, 41-43, NLT
What do you want Me to do for you?
Well, Jesus, I'd love to take a few strokes off my golf game, I'd like whiter teeth and fresher breath, I could use a vacation in the south of France... Oh, and by the way, did you notice how I stumbled over here and can't exactly tell where you are? I'm blind! I want to see! I'm tired of being in the dark! What do you mean, "What do you want Me to do for you?" I want to see.
Jesus wasn't obtuse. In the accounts of his dealings with people, he typically waits for a request before acting. Most people simply approached him and stated what they wanted. The blind man had no way of knowing that he was in Jesus' presence and focused in his gaze until Jesus spoke and invited the man to make a request — yet more evidence that this man was profoundly blind.
Jesus gave the man his sight. He gave him exactly what he wanted. But was it what he needed?
Luke tells us that after the man was healed, he praised God and followed Jesus down the road, continuing to praise God. If that had been me, I think I might have run off to a nearby city to revel in my new freedom and soak in all the glorious sights that I had been missing all those years.
Not this man.
He got what he wanted — sight — but his response to that gift suggests that what he needed even more than sight was a restoration of his faith in God. He needed an experience of God's mercy, a very personal experience of God's caring and love. He needed to know that the God he had long prayed to had heard his prayers; that the God he had long worshiped in darkness was in fact living and powerfully at work in his world.
What he wanted was to see. What he needed was to have that empty place of doubt and disappointment and puzzlement inside of him filled up by the compassionate and loving mercies of the Good Shepherd.
My life is too often driven by what I want, not what I need. I'm like the guy in Janice Joplin's song, who prays "Oh, Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz. My friends all drive Porsches; I must make amends."
But what I need won't be satisfied by a better car, a cruise, or less gray in my hair. I need to worship someone bigger than myself. I need to experience purpose and meaning in my life. I need to know forgiveness, mercy and love.
What I need, what we all need, is to be touched deep down inside of our souls by that same Jesus who restored sight, and hope, to a blind man sitting beside a dusty road.