Jesus is on his way into Jericho when he passes a blind man begging by the roadside. The man is calling, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!' The crowd orders him to be quiet, but Jesus orders him to be brought over to him. Then he asks him a very strange question.
The story's told in Luke 18: 35-43, and this is Jesus' question.
'What do you want me to do for you?'
Looking back at a distance of 2,000 years, with a faith that Jesus could work miracles and knowing how the story ended, we might well think it's strange. Of course the man wanted to be healed: 'Lord, I want to see,' he said.
But neither the question, nor the answer, are as straightforward as we might think.
1. The question
The question respects the blind man's choice. We are very good at seeing someone's problems and assuming we know how to fix them, whether on a large scale or on a purely personal level. But rather than Jesus assuming he knew best, he asks the man what he wants. Rather than overriding his choices, he allows them.
Jesus' approach has a message for us whenever we're in a position of superiority. Perhaps we're counselling someone who's in a difficult situation we might have navigated successfully; it's easy to jump in with the answer. Or perhaps we're in a position to exercise influence in the church, because we're good at arguing or we have a particular role. That question, 'What do you want me to do for you?' implies a patient, accepting listening before we do anything at all.
It also speaks into our approach to evangelism, where Christians can sometimes seem rather arrogant with non-Christians; after all, we know the truth and they don't. Jesus opens a door for conversation by asking the other person what he thinks; he doesn't jump in with the answer.
2. The answer
The answer reflects not just deep faith, but deep courage. The blind man might have known that Jesus was a miracle-worker, but he might also have thought of him as a likely source of funds. So when he says, 'Lord, I want to see,' he is moving on to a different level of faith entirely: Jesus can give him a different life.
However, it isn't as straightforward as that. We don't know how long he had been blind. If it was from birth, he might not have any sort of trade or skill. Almsgiving was a sacred duty for Jews; he would not have gone hungry or been without shelter. If he could see, he would become responsible for finding his own livelihood. He would have to work, to have a different relationship with the people around him, to be less dependent and more free. So a great deal depended on his answer, and telling Jesus he wanted to see took courage as well as faith. He was embracing an unknown future. Saying 'I want to see' meant leaving behind all the securities of his past life and setting out on a new journey.
Jesus said, 'Receive your sight; your faith has healed you' (verse 42). The word he used for 'healed' is significant. It is the same word as 'saved'.
When we become Christians, it's because Jesus has asked us what we want him to do for us. When we answer, 'I want to see,' or 'I want to be saved,' a new life opens up for us. There are new responsibilities, new possibilities and new relationships. That takes a lot of courage, and it's not surprising many don't feel able to do it.
But the question, and the invitation, are always there.
Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods