Assumptions Are Dangerous
Assumptions are dangerous. I get really tired of people saying “The Bible says.” I know, sounds weird coming from a minister of the gospel, so let me explain.
A few years back, a young pastor came to my office. I had never met him before so we spent some time introducing ourselves. Then he started to ask me about our church and what we believed in. I was more than glad to do so naively thinking that this young grasshopper had come to inquire from an elder. Then it started.
“But the Bible says…” We verbally circled each other for a time before my blinders came off and I started to see why he was really here. So I asked him outright. Some time before this, we had a young man, a student from Niagara College, start attending our church. We, as a church, had really extended ourselves to this young man. Suddenly, he stopped coming. Apparently he had ended up at this man’s church. I confess, I was relieved to find out nothing bad had happened to this young student. I had no problem that he found another church. Everyone has their own walk with God.
Yet, puzzled, I still had to ask why this pastor was here. “Are you teaching your people THE truth?” “Are you here to judge me- us as a church?” “I’m not judging you, God is! The Bible says…” And the verbal circling started again.
I said, “the Bible also says that women are not to speak in church, are to have their heads covered, and, according to Leviticus, if my wife displeases me in any way I can take her out to the village square and have her stoned.” “The Bible says that men, not women, shall have dominion over the earth.” “Are you kidding me?”
Finally, I just had to ask. “How old are you?”, a question he wasn’t expecting. Unsteadily he responded, “26”. “And what’s your background?” “I came to the Lord when I was 16, went to Bible College for two years when I was 18, spent 4 years as a youth director. Now I have my own church.” “Okay then. If this is the process of your church then good for you, and I wish you the best. But answer me this. I was born into and nurtured by the church, specifically Wesley church, my whole life. I spent 7 years studying Philosophy, Psychology, Theology and Biblical studies full time. I have a Master’s degree in Divinity, and have spent the last 30 some odd years in continuation of my Biblical studies. Why do you believe you have the right to come in here and tell me that my faith beliefs are wrong?”
“I am here to bring correction to your path so you may come back to the truth. The Bible says…” “Well, I can appreciate your concern but your are judging me. Remember that little scripture where Jesus says ‘judge not that you yourselves shall not be judged?’” “I’m not judging you, God is.” And off we go again circling each other.
I hope you are hearing the intent of this story. This is not a story about being right or wrong. It’s an illustration on how dangerous assumptions can be. Assumptions that I have the truth, the only truth, and therefore you must be wrong. I won’t take the time here to go into Biblical justifications but I would like to simply say that to simplify the Holy Wisdom of the Bible into a handbook of the beliefs is a dangerous thing, for it does bring with it judgment, and with judgment, beliefs of right and wrong invoke the power to include or exclude. The establishment of laws based on these beliefs empower people, justify people, to divide and put up walls. Assumptions are dangerous things. Peter found that out this morning.
Jesus is walking with the disciples towards Jerusalem. A crowd follows. He is asking the disciples who these people say he is and he gets the expected answer, a prophet. Then he asks them who they think he is and Peter, like a little grade schooler, thrusts his arm in the air squealing “Oh, I know, I know! Ask me, I know!” You’ve got to love good old impetuous Peter. Jesus sure did. “You’re the Messiah!” Peter beams waiting for his gold star. Instead, Peter ends up getting sent to the corner. Not because the answer is wrong but because he has made an assumption about what it means to be a Messiah.
Jesus starts talking about Messiahship and informs the whole crowd that it involves suffering and humiliation and possibly death at the hand of the authorities. Peter is shocked and pulls Jesus aside and asks him what is doing. You see, Peter is working on the assumption of Messiahship as it is defined by his Jewish tradition. Messiahship to Peter is the anointing of a King, a royal figure from the line of David, expected to come and free Israel from their Gentile oppressors, purify the people, and restore Israel’s independence and glory.
Peter assumes to teach his teacher. “Messiahs are supposed to conquer Romans, not get killed by them. We have the momentum of the crowd. We have enough people to throw the Romans out! But not with talk like this. What good is a dead Messiah?”
Well, today we don’t have to assume what good a dead Messiah can do. But Peter didn’t know that and, even after three years of living with Jesus, he still didn’t understand the concept of a suffering servant, a Messiah who shows the strength of this love for his people.
Jesus shows a flash of temper. Yes, our gentle shepherd rails against his best friend and calls him Satan. Whoa, don’t want to get on Jesus’ bad side. Yet, yet, is what Peter wants in a Messiah so different from what we want? We want someone who is strong and powerful, someone who will rescue us from our troubles, defeat our enemies. We would like a saviour who is a winner and one who makes us winners.
And you can hear a lot of that kind of talk from different churches. You’re saved. You’re anointed. You’ve won a place in heaven. And in the second coming, you shall physically rise form the grave and ascend with Jesus to the glorious kingdom.
Yet, who do we really get for a Messiah?
Cheryl Lawrie tells us.
What was it about Jesus
that is so confusing for governments
and for ordinary people?
Pilate couldn’t make sense of Jesus
and half the time we can’t either.
We want a God who comes in might and power
to take all before him
and we get Jesus:
unmistakably human and vulnerable,
always on the side of love, not power,
human, even to the point of death.
We keep asking the question,
‘God, who are you?’
in the hope we’ll get a different answer.
And God just keeps coming back with this one.
Jesus keeps insisting on identifying with the lowest of losers. He allows himself to be judged and condemned as a blasphemer of all things, of a God he has only loved with his whole heart and mind and soul. He will also allow himself to be mocked, tortured and executed as a criminal by Rome.
Let me leave you with this. You can’t answer Jesus’ inquiry about who he is without revealing who you are. Jesus’ question is not a test. It’s not about getting it right. It is a moment when you come face to face with your own commitment, your own discipleship, your own identity. It is a moment when you have to admit to what extent you are willing to follow Jesus.
Jesus asks, “Are you willing to pick up the cross, to be branded as a trouble maker, a peace –lover, a political subversive, to be always on the side of love, not power, and to be part of the human family even to the point of death?”
I leave you with the words of Jesus. “For those who save their lives will lose them. What does it profit you to gain the whole world and to forfeit your life? What can you give in return for the life I gave you?”
Assumptions made around all this can be very dangerous.