Recently I was a little taken aback to be told that I know nothing about Benedictine monasticism. It wasn’t put quite like that, of course, it never is; but I was left in no doubt that my interlocutor (not himself a monk) thought he knew better than I. He may be right; indeed, deep down, I think he is right, for I feel know less and less the longer I try to live this kind of life; but neither of us can claim absolute certainty. Yet isn’t that precisely what we all do much of the time? We haven’t time for qualifications and nuance so we make assumptions instead, even though it means we make assumptions that can be cruelly wrong at times. (Just think of all those people who dress differently from us and whom we avoid on the grounds that they ‘may’ be dangerous . . .)
I was thinking about this in connection with the Jesus portrayed in the gospels. The number of times someone gets him ‘wrong’, assumes that this inspiring teacher is a mere rabble-rouser, intent on destroying everything that first century Judaism held precious! We still get him ‘wrong’ today, wanting him to be the Jesus we would like him to be rather than the person he is. That is one reason prayer is so essential. Without that regular laying aside of our own ideas and opening ourselves up to the reality of God, we can become too complacent that we have got him ‘sorted’, confined his immensity in our own littleness.
Our assumptions about others, their motives especially, can be just as wide of the mark, as I indicated earlier. Perhaps a useful Lenten exercise would be to examine some of our assumptions about the people closest to us and the way in which those assumptions work for their good — or not.