Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
What response will get Jesus’ attention? What will stop Him dead in His tracks?
Grand Canyon University President Brian Mueller, who emphasized the University's five-point plan and its partnership with CityServe to help those in need, asked those questions Monday at the first Chapel of the semester in a packed GCU Arena.
Mueller spoke about the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus is described as a person who does more than preach: “He moves, He shows, He demonstrates, He responds,” said Mueller, though His disciples don’t seem to have any idea who Jesus really is.
“They can tell you about His attributes, about His characteristics, but they don’t understand anything about His purpose,” said Mueller.
He shared the story of Jesus and His disciples traveling from Jericho to Jerusalem, when He predicts His own death for the third time (Mark 10:32-34). The disciples are afraid because Jesus clashed with the religious authorities, and they were headed into the heart of that trouble.
After telling His disciples what will happen to Him – that Jewish leaders will hand Him over to the Romans and that He will be killed and rise on the third day – James and John approached Jesus and requested of Him: “We want You to do for us whatever we ask. … Let one of us sit at Your right hand and the other at Your left in Your glory.” (Mark 10:35-40). But Jesus tells them, “To sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
Although James and John are the ones who ask this of Jesus, the other 10 disciples want the same thing.
“And so you’ve got the 12 led by James and John who are saying something very interesting: No. 1, they want to be seen, right?” said Mueller. “… No. 2, they want respect, they want authority, they want power. And No. 3, they expect to be served.”
But Mueller considers what happens next “one of the most interesting (stories) in all of the Bible.”
On the 13-mile trip from Jericho to Jerusalem, a blind man on the side of the road named Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He is persistent about getting Jesus’ attention.
“This might be the first guy who got it,” Mueller said, “who got who Jesus was and what His purpose was.”
Jesus called for Bartimaeus and asked him, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
He immediately receives his sight and follows Jesus along the road.
“Interesting right? This is the creator of the universe, the restorer of the universe, and unlike James and John who said, ‘We’d like for You to do for us what we ask,’ He’s asking a blind beggar, ‘What would you like Me to do?’ The ultimate in humility,” Mueller said. “… It gives you an idea of what got Jesus’ attention, what stopped Jesus dead in His tracks.”
Mueller said Jesus was surrounded by people with power and influence. “But what gets Jesus’ attention is the guy living in the margins. It’s the blind guy – the beggar – for whom life really is a tough go.”
Mueller noted the stark contrast between the disciples and Bartimaeus:
“James and John want to be seen. Bartimaeus just wants to see.
They want respect, power and control. Bartimaeus wants mercy.
They want to be served. The blind guy wants to serve.”
“Jesus was never about power. He was never about control,” Mueller said. “He was about mercy. He was about grace. … I think this is such an important story because of how politically we are divided today, how America has become, politically, all about power and not about service.”
Mueller said he feels God’s mercy working at GCU.
“When I look out here today, I think, 'Could God’s mercy be any greater than it is at this place at this time?' When you think about where we were 13 years ago, when you think about where we are today and go out and walk our campus and you enjoy what God has done here, the question is, are we going to respond appropriately? Are we going to respond in a way that can get God’s attention?”
GCU has responded by allowing faith to drive who we are, Mueller said.
“We can come together every day as a community and we can be productive. We can do things that are not about power. We can do things that are about mercy and that are about grace.”
It was faith that kept GCU in this neighborhood of immigrants, where 45 languages are spoken within a 5-mile radius.
“As we talked about that (building out the University in 2008), it became very obvious to us that it’s not about us," Mueller said. "It’s not about what we want. It’s about what God wants, and God wanted Grand Canyon University to be here, to be a blessing to this neighborhood.”
Mueller spoke of GCU’s five-point plan to do just that:
- Create jobs on campus. About 14,000 jobs have been created at GCU and Grand Canyon Education. “We try to hire as many people in the neighborhood as we can because if they work here, they can get salary, they can get benefits, which is a game-changer. Their kids can go to college almost free if they are gainfully employed here.” He also spoke about the University’s partnership with the Milwaukee Brewers baseball club, which signed a 30-year lease with the city of Phoenix and put $80 million into its Maryvale complex.
- Create jobs in west Phoenix. In the last five years, GCU has launched 10 new business enterprises, from a hotel to an ad agency, that provide jobs to students, graduates and local residents.
- Make neighborhoods safer. GCU signed a multimillion-dollar contract with the city of Phoenix to increase safety and eliminate crimes in the neighborhoods surrounding the University.
- Improve home value. Through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity, 360 homes have been renovated so far, and home values have gone up 400%.
- Support K12 education. Through the Learning Lounge, about 1,200 students will provide tutoring to youth at more than 100 schools in the neighborhood this semester. Full-tuition Students Inspiring Students scholarships also are awarded to students in the neighborhood.
But Mueller said of all the exciting initiatives, none is quite like the University’s latest outreach with GCU CityServe and how students will live out “a whole new era of how we do church,” he said.
GCU is the first university HUB, or warehouse distribution center, for CityServe. The 35,000-square-foot warehouse, in Building 66 at 27th Avenue, will receive in-kind items, everything from furniture to outdoors equipment, appliances, clothing, car seats and more, from major retailers such as Costco, Amazon and Home Depot.
Those items will go to churches, schools, community service organizations and other similar organizations that will distribute those goods to those in need.
Nine truckloads already have been delivered to the warehouse, which will be expanded to 100,000 square feet (an open house is set for 11 a.m. Sept. 23).
“We need your help,” Mueller said. “We’re going to need hundreds of volunteers to get this stuff into the hands of these people.”
He asked students to picture a family with four children sleeping on the same mattress in the same room: “How would one of you like to deliver two bunkbeds to that house so those kids now have their own bed to sleep in at night?”
Phase II of GCU CityServe will move beyond the delivery of goods to long-term sustainable solutions. The University already has talked about the campus’ colleges perhaps building a health clinic for the families GCU serves, possibly a mental health clinic, or business assistance for fledgling immigrant businesses.
With the University set to expand to 40,000 students, GCU will be able to do even more for the community.
“Because that’s what we’re trying to do here, right?" Mueller said. "We’re going to try to get His attention. We’re going to try to stop Him dead in His tracks so He’ll say, 'I have a community of people that’s responding appropriately.'”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
Next Chapel: 11 a.m. Monday, Sept. 20. Speaker: Terry Mackey of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church
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