What Would Veruca Do?

Before the 2005 movie release of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you may remember the original classic, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Released in 1971, the movie boasted a talented cast of characters, led by Gene Wilder playing the role of Willy Wonka.

Apart from Gene Wilder, my favorite character was Veruca Salt, played by Julie Dawn Cole. Not surprisingly, she’s the only “Wonka kid” who is still acting. Veruca Salt serves as the poster child of the spoiled brat. In the video above, she sings “I Want it Now.”

What you want says a lot about who you are.

Please join me as we delve into this further.


Leviticus 25:47-27:13
Mark 10:32-52
Psalm 45:1-17
Proverbs 10:22


Leviticus 26. God’s promises for rewarding our obedience in verses 3-13 are so reassuring. I want to reap the benefits of obedience. But how do I explain the hardship some extremely faithful believers experience? And what about the undeniable successes of evil people? Knowing that God is greater than any formula, where do I go with this passage? Here are a few  thoughts:

  1. Obedience always brings rewards—beginning with our relationship with God. In the same way, disobedience negatively affects our relationship with God. Always.
  2. The life of obedience often brings other material rewards, consistent with the passage we just read. I can look at the beginning of Leviticus 26 and confidently say it bears out…most of the time.
  3. Ungodly people often experience material blessings as well as godly people. Jesus said that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).
  4. No one is completely righteous. The apostle Paul, quoting David, said, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). In the same way, I must admit that I still struggle with various and sundry idols.
  5. God, in his grace and mercy, doesn’t reward our disobedience along the lines of Leviticus 26:14-39. Despite my ongoing fight against sin, I’ve never experienced a wasting disease or fever that destroys my sight and drains away my life.
  6. God ultimately determines the nature of our reward, which may not involve material possessions. Every person has a different definition of “reward.” But only one person’s definition prevails: God’s.
  7. Finally, God will only work good in the lives of his people. “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Sometimes it may look bad, but ultimately God redeems every negative experience in our lives.

Leviticus 27:1-13. This section concerns voluntary vows—which God didn’t require of his people. The New Bible Commentary further explains, “This chapter, recognizing that people committed to holiness and striving to live according to the preceding chapters may be tempted to make over-enthusiastic or unrealistic ‘offers’ to God, tempers such enthusiasm with cool realism. Vows must be entered into only in full awareness of their costliness.”

Mark 10:32-34. At this point in the gospel of Mark, Jesus begins his final journey to Jerusalem–a journey that culminates at the cross. Verse 32 is striking: “They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.” Jesus, only days away from crucifixion, led the way, while his disciples—eleven of whom would survive—are astonished (we aren’t quite sure what they’re astonished about) and the rest of his followers are trembling in fear.

Mark 10:35-45. The timing of James and John’s request is impeccable. Jesus had just told them that he was about to be crucified. James and John apparently assumed that the new kingdom was going to come, so they tried to get “dibs” on the primary positions in the new kingdom. Along with Peter, these two brothers were Jesus’ closest confidantes. To make matters worse, the rest of the disciples were “indignant,” probably because they were mad at James and John for trying to get ahead of them.

Jesus then turned this incident into a teachable moment: the kingdom isn’t about being in charge or being in control. The kingdom of God is concerned with serving others. Author Donald Kraybill calls this the “upside-down kingdom.” Bigger isn’t necessarily better. The goal of Christian leadership isn’t gaining more people to supervise or building a platform to broadcast your message. The upside-down kingdom thrives on serving others.

Psalm 45. This psalm is classified as a “royal psalm,” which means it is dedicated to the king. To be specific, the psalm concerns a king’s impending marriage. In a democratic society, the success or failure of our nation lies on the shoulders of numerous people. But in a monarchy, the gifts, abilities, and character of a king or queen determined the fate of everyone in the kingdom. Some biblical scholars see similarities between the king and his bride with Christ and his church.

Proverbs 10:22. At various times, I’ve meditated on this verse and tried to understand what “he adds no trouble to it” means. But The Message offers a great paraphrase: “God’s blessing makes life rich; nothing we do can improve on God.”

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If you could have anything you wanted, what would you ask for? Your answer says a great deal about your heart.

Without a doubt, Mark purposely tells the story of blind Bartimaeus immediately following the incident with James and John (Mark 10:35-52).

The two brothers approached Jesus and said, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” On the other hand, it was Jesus who asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” The brothers asked for privilege. Bartimaeus asked for sight.

I must admit that periodically, when I drive past a Lotto billboard that announces the current cash prize, I calculate how much a year the winning ticket would bring me.

What could I buy with US$90 million? A speed boat. A bigger house. A maid to clean the house. A sweet electric violin. A condo in Cancun. The whole world—to quote Veruca Salt.

But is that what I really want?

Blind Bartimaeus wanted to see. If I were blind, that would be my request. But in a metaphorical sense, do I want my spiritual eyes opened?

In many respects, James and John exposed their blindness, while the blind man revealed that he could see.

What do your requests tell you about your heart?


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. If Jesus were to ask you, “What do you want me to do for you?” what would you say?
  3. What did James and John (and the rest of the disciples) share in common with blind Bartimaeus? How were they different?
  4. Where have you seen the “upside-down kingdom” at work?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.


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2 responses to “What Would Veruca Do?

  1. Linda

    A bunch of random comments.

    First, as to the readings in Leviticus, certainly the overarching theme is that obedience to the Lord creates blessings. Those blessings may — or may not — be material. Leave it to we Americans to always want more. As I was driving along in Arvada yesterday, I was listening to an NPR report about the devastation in Haiti (definitely a Third World country) and Chile (not so much) and observed all of us milling about. Big box stores — Costco! — restaurants on every corner, fast food galore, abundance everywhere to the tune of a huge national obesity rate. We take this all so much for granted. Meanwhile, there are people in Somalia, in Haiti, all around the world who are starving and would have killed for the piece of bread I was just then eating from Great Harvest. I had to stop and give thanks and also do a bit of repentance and a bit of intercession …

    And I was raised in a single-parent home at a time when that was almost unheard of. There were times I was hungry. Many times I was ashamed of my situation in comparison to my peers. I confess a deep fear that poverty may overtake me again, especially now that I’m unemployed…

    I guess the point of these ramblings is that in America, we are blessed beyond belief. Even our most poor and destitute are often better off than other poor people in the world. A homeless person, for instance, can get a good and nutritious meal at any number of shelters or missions.

    What will we do if the economy gets worse, as some forecast it may? Will we think God has abandoned us or it’s his judgment come upon us? Or will we stop taking so much for granted.

    I love the story of Bartimaeus, simply because Jesus had such sweet mercy on old Blind Bart. To me, the simplicity of the story illuminates God’s grace.

    • Linda, I always enjoy your comments.

      The other day my daughter mentioned that we’re poor. When I explained that we aren’t poor, she was surprised. Quite honestly, I feel guilty asking God to provide for our financial needs when our family makes more money than at least 90% of the rest of the world. We don’t NEED a boat or a hot tub or a new car. We already have everything we need.

      I’m sorry that you’re still unemployed. I’ll keep you in my prayers. I mean that.

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