Friday, February 27, 2015

Tempting Assumptions

Scripture for the First Sunday in Lent includes Genesis 9:8-17; I Peter 3:18-22: Mark 1:9-15

A funny thing happened on the way to a cup of coffee I was to have had with someone last week. Actually, it wasn’t all that funny to either of us, except by hindsight.

Tunnel City at 10:00, we agreed. Since I was about to ask a lot of this person, I made it a point to be early so as to meet her at the door when she arrived. I wanted to pay for this cup of coffee before I made my pitch. Little did I know that she had arrived even earlier, and was busily blogging in the back room.

10:10 and I figured, well, winter delays us all. 10:15, okay, maybe I wrote down the wrong time, or maybe she did. A fellow I’m friendly with came over for a chat, so by 10:25 I’m concluding that this rendezvous isn’t happening.

If you know me, you won’t be surprised to hear that I lacked access to the Internet (that’s one of my new year resolutions to tackle), and I didn’t have my coffee mate’s cell phone number with me—so, once back at my office, I headed for the keyboard, only to find the plaintive message, “It’s 10:37, and you haven’t come. We’ll have to try again.”

Had I looked into that back room? Well, I thought I had. I’d certainly scanned the rest of the place. But I picture her now just inside that rear doorway and tucked off to the left, where the muses were dancing all around her laptop.

Our assumptions can become obstacles. I had assumed I was the first kid on the block, and I was not. My would-be coffee partner may have made an assumption or two (like that I am more observant than I actually am).

HOW COULD THIS HAVE HAPPENED TO US? I asked, in my email to her. The answer, I suppose, is that we are both human, subject to faulty assumptions, likely to get absorbed in our own thoughts, and apt to draw false conclusions.

Which takes us to the desert beyond the Jordan, where the Spirit of God has driven Jesus to face temptations. When Luke tells this story, it’s all fleshed out with specific temptations to turn stones to bread, to turn his spiritual power into domination, and even to defy the law of gravity in a daredevil sort of way. Mark, by contrast, offers no such detail and leaves it for us to imagine what shapes temptation takes. As for me, I’ll take that as an opportunity to imagine the temptation to make wrong assumptions, to be self-absorbed, and to draw wrong conclusions. That should be challenge enough for Lenten spring training in preparation for new life at Easter.

In fact, those temptations might be right up the alley of what Jesus dealt with in his temptations. It’s in the language of assumptions, self-absorption, and wrong conclusions that the apostle Paul described our Lord’s liberation from such temptations. In his Letter to the Philippians he calls the Church to embrace the task of faith formation:

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”

There in a nutshell is the point and purpose of Lent, to allow Jesus’s liberation from false assumptions, self-absorption, and wrong conclusions to shape our faith and practice.

Whenever I pray for people, I pray that they will see and make their very best choices and avoid their worst choices. That is my prayer for myself daily, as well. That day at Tunnel City, I could have used more of that kind of praying. Still, what actually happened is a gift in that it trains me to test the assumptions I’m making, to step beyond my own thoughts and pay attention 360 degrees around (or as close as I can get), and to weigh that moment when I’m about to act on a conclusion that could miss the mark, misread reality, and fail to connect with the precious present.