Never assume anything – it makes an ass out of u and me. I first heard that at school; the person who told it me was a Christian and couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud, so he wrote it down. That was twenty years ago. It’s taken me a long time to learn that lesson.
In Luke 7, Jesus goes to dinner at the home of Simon the Pharisee. Somehow a ‘sinful’ woman gets in and pours a jar of expensive perfume over Jesus’s feet in an act of anointing. Needless to say, this does not go down well. A lot of that is down to people’s assumptions.
For instance, why was the woman sinful?
The traditional assumption is that she was a prostitute, but that’s not mentioned in the text. Church history as her sins pegged as sexual, but for all we know she’d been robbing banks with a sawn-off shotgun. And yet we look at people, see how they act and how they dress and how they look and assume we know everything we need to know about them. It’s tragic how our image of people can be reduced to a short skirt and a couple of tattoos.
This woman certainly had a reputation, and it’s that reputation that, in the mind of Simon the Pharisee, also confirms Jesus’s own status; after all, if Jesus was the prophet everyone thought he was, surely he’d know that the woman was a ‘sinner’? Surely he’d send her away in disgrace and preserve the sanctity of this occasion, the dignity of this meeting between two religious authorities? No, the woman was a sinner and Jesus was a fraud.
Never assume anything.
Jesus basically takes Simon’s assumptions – which he seems to know about even though Simon hasn’t voiced them out loud, showing that yes, Jesus is a prophet after all – and drop kicks them over the horizon. “If you’re forgiven a lot, you’re going to love a lot,” Jesus says, highlighting that, while the woman’s undignified actions are socially inappropriate, she’s displaying a depth of love and emotion that Simon is incapable of.
After all, Simon’s committed a few social faux pas of his own – he doesn’t treat Jesus as an honoured guest, which is an epic failure of hospitality. Maybe he was being lead by his assumptions again – did he assume Jesus was a fraud all along, hence the dismissive way in which he treated his guest?
“Do you see this woman?” Jesus asks, and the answer, although Simon couldn’t very well miss her, seems to be ‘no’. Simon sees her sins, her past, her reputation, but he seems to miss out on seeing her as an individual looking for grace. Jesus, on the other hand, sees her as someone worth honouring, someone to forgive rather than someone to condemn.
Our assumptions, prejudices and arrogance keep us from God; worse, they also keep others from God as well. Constantly seeing the ‘sins’ of those around us blinds us to our own, leaving us like Simon the Pharisee, a man so intent on recognising sin that he missed the Messiah right in front of him.