“The Danger of Making Assumptions”


Pentecost 22

October 25, 2015

 

Text: Mark 10:46-52; Job 42:1-6, 10-17

         

          This morning we read the story of the healing of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar Jesus encountered at Jericho. Jesus was passing through town. When Bartimaeus found out Jesus was near, he started shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowds tried to get Bartimaeus to shut up, but the more they did, the more he shouted for Jesus. Jesus heard him, stopped, and said, “Call him over here.” When Jesus said this, the crowd started encouraging Bartimaeus, and he put aside his coat, got up, and went to Jesus. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

          It wouldn’t surprise me if the reaction of some people to that question was along the line of, “Duh, Jesus! The man is blind! What do you think he wants you to do for him?” But Jesus made no assumptions. He did not presume to know what Bartimaeus wanted. It was only when Bartimaeus told him, “Teacher, I want to see” that Jesus had told him his faith had made him well. At that point Bartimaeus received his sight and started following Jesus.

          We also read the conclusion of the story of Job. As you may remember, Job was a righteous man who pleased God and who had prospered exceedingly. When all sorts of bad things happened to him, he continued to trust God, but he also demanded an explanation from God for what had happened to him, especially after some of his friends came to him and started saying, “You must have done something really bad to tick God off enough to deserve this” while Job protested that he was innocent. Both Job and his friends assumed that those who trust in God will always have good things happen to them. It was only after God confronted them and reminded them that mere mortals are not capable of fully understanding God’s ways that Job admitted that his assumptions were wrong and that he didn’t know what he was talking about.

          Now it is very common for people to make assumptions. Our assumptions about how life works, how God operates, and how people behave are typically based on what we have learned from others and what we ourselves have observed and experienced. They are one way we make sense of our world. They lend a certain amount of predictability to our lives, and predictability is something most people seem to like.

          The problem comes, it seems to me, when I make my assumptions into immutable laws that allow no exceptions. Then when something that doesn’t fit into my assumptions happens, I find there are some feelings I need to deal with, such as anger, confusion, and fear. Lurking behind these feelings is often the belief that I need to be in control of my life. When taken to the extreme, it may mean deep down that I think I should be in control of God and of other people, a belief which is both misguided and futile.

          When I make assumptions, I presume to know more than I really do. Job and his friends made assumptions about God because they presumed to have God and his ways of dealing with the world figured out. Then they found out that they didn’t know as much as they thought they did. By making assumptions about God, they failed to apprehend that God is a mystery whose ways are often beyond our grasp.

          It is also easy to make assumptions about other people. It would have been easy for Jesus to assume that because Bartimaeus was blind, he of course would want to be given his sight. But what if Bartimaeus had wanted something else? What if he had wanted healing for a family member or help for other problems he had in his life? If Jesus had assumed what Bartimaeus wanted, he might have missed the boat completely in ministering to him.

          How easy it is to define people by outward appearances. How easy it is to assume that what someone wants is automatically defined by what we can see about their lives. We assume that if one is sick, that person wants healing. If one is poor, he/she wants financial assistance. If people are mistreated and put down, they want respect and acceptance. And they may well want these things. After all, Bartimaeus did want to see. But how many other heart cries may I be missing because I assume I know what people want or need, fail to appreciate the mystery that each human being is, and don’t ask?

          God does not make assumptions. He has no reason to, because he knows us completely. But we do not, and indeed cannot, know God and each other completely. Our knowledge is only partial. The rest is mystery. Now many people regard a mystery as something to be solved. After all, the idea behind the mystery novel is trying to solve a crime. However, speaking of God, the very nature of God is a mystery which we cannot grasp on our own, and certainly which we cannot solve. What we know of God is what God chooses to disclose to us. Likewise, what we know of another person is what that person discloses through his/her words, actions, and presence. No one discloses everything—indeed, we would find a person who did so foolhardy and embarrassing. We cannot solve the mystery of another human being, nor should we try to.

          Let us learn not to make assumptions about God or about others. Let us learn to accept the mystery of God and the mystery of each person as gift, not as something to solve. Let us learn to ask others, including each other, what they want and need rather than assuming we already know.  

                                                                             Amen.

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