The bottom of the ladder

At the height of his power, Napoleon ruled over France, Spain, Italy, Holland and parts of Germany and Austria. He was truly an Emperor. At the end of his life, he was exiled on St Helena, an island in the middle of the Atlantic measuring ten miles at its widest point. During his last days, he was only allowed to walk around a four mile stretch of it. Imagine being an Emperor who is not even allowed across an island a third the size of the Isle of Wight. Wherever he went, whether on foot or on horseback, he had to have British army officers with him. He hated it. He used to gallop off, at speed, up the side of steep slopes just to have moments of freedom without his guards. How far he had fallen. He had gone from the top of the ladder of power to the very bottom of it.

Do you expect to climb that ladder? Do you expect to gain authority as you grow older? Do you expect your salary to increase? In five years’ time do you hope to spend more of your time telling others what to do and less of your time being bossed around? Do you look forward to the day when you can do whatever you like, without worrying about anyone else?

Lockdown has crushed our illusions of grandeur. Perhaps you once had your own office, a team who listened to you and the comfort of being able to tick multiple items off your to-do list each day. For these months, some of us have hidden in our bedroom to experience that sense of satisfaction. Or is that just me who has been unable to make anything happen in my own home without an argument?

What do you want me to do for you?

We read in Mark 10 of two occasions when Jesus asked the same question, “What do you want me to do for you?” He got two completely different answers.


The first time it was James and John, his disciples, who answered Jesus by asking for thrones, one for each of them, on either side of Jesus, in glory. Wow! That answer was never going to end well. They wanted power and they wanted to be the first to ask for it. Sure enough, when the other disciples heard about it (v41), they wished they had thought to ask first.

We should be thankful to them for being so wrong, because Jesus’ rebuke (v42-45) is what we need to hear so often. The dictators, the corrupt presidents, the bullying office managers, the abusive parents and the ungodly church leaders all expect to shout orders at those under their authority.

Not so with you.

Our ladder needs to be upside down. The one with the most authority stands at the bottom of the ladder and serves those above. The one who wants to be truly great searches to serve absolutely everyone else. And of course as we mutter to ourselves, “But no one actually does that,” we are floored to read him say, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”.

Has lockdown revealed this upside down ladder in your church family? Have the most vulnerable been the most cared for? Have those with the least money had food left on their doorsteps? Have those in authority been standing in gardens shouting encouragement through closed windows to the lonely souls on the other side?


Then, straight away, we read Jesus asking the exact same question to blind Bartimaeus. He had caught the Lord’s attention by bellowing for mercy from his begging mat behind the crowd. It must have been totes awks for the disciples as they stood behind Jesus listening to Bart’s answer, “I want to see.”

He begged for mercy.

He asked for sight. He received everything.

‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’

Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

He followed Jesus along the road. Can you imagine what James and John were thinking as Bartimaeus joined them, two steps behind the boss? They got schooled that day. So did we. We learn the simplicity of faith. The faith we can teach our youngest children. The faith we can still be learning decades after first believing. The faith we need in these strange days. Live those steps with Bartimaeus.

Beg for mercy. Ask for sight. Receive everything. Follow Jesus down the road.

Don’t get distracted by the thought of a throne. Your dream is probably not a throne, but each of us has a wrong answer to Jesus’ question, “What do you want me to do for you?” Each of us, in different ways, is tempted to ask for a place at the top of the ladder. Don’t bother looking to the top. Be content to stand at the bottom. After all, it’s where Jesus spent his whole life. There will be a day when you see him on the throne. Then you will not want for anything. What you will experience on that day (and every day afterwards) will leave the ladder in the skip. Until that day, keep doing it the Bartimaeus way.

Beg for mercy. Ask for sight. Receive everything. Follow Jesus down the road.


Don’t be tempted to strive for power, glory and recognition. Instead come to Christ. Every day. Live the old story of faith. It offers more. Beg for mercy. Ask for sight. Receive everything. Follow Jesus down the road.There is no better way to live.


Dear Father, Thank you that in these days of worry, uncertainty and disease, there is a way that offers everything. Forgive us for wanting glory now. Please let us follow Jesus by serving those in need and by living to see more of him. Amen

Ed Drew

This article was first published in Youth and Children’s work magazine.