What Happens When You Assume?

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Mark 11:1–11 NRSV
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
What happens when one assumes? Chores are neglected, things are left undone, tickets get left on tables, documents are left unsigned, feelings are hurt, relationships are damaged. All kinds of things happen when we assume. One quip says that “assuming makes a…donkey out of u and me.”
A perfect example of assuming is the presidential election of 1948. In this election Republican Governor Thomas Dewey of New York was challenging the incumbent Democrat Harry Truman. The race was a tight one. On the line was a continuation of 16 years of Democratic control of the White House or what was promoted as change and a fresh start.
On election night the polls were a bit slower in sending in their results than they are today. But they were coming in with the results that some had predicted that Dewey would win in a landslide. The newspapers needed to get out the editions that would let the nation know who the president would be for the next four years. And so, the Chicago Daily Tribune asked their Washington correspondent for his analysis. This man had been correct in four of the five elections since the election of 1928. His assessment was like all the polls: Dewey in a landslide. So, the paper ran with the story and the headline that proclaimed this fact along with the news that the Republicans would also control the House and the Senate.
But as the night went on, things began to change. The race was tighter than expected and eventually Truman won the election and the House and Senate went to the Democrats. The papers changed the headlines for the second editions to reflect the correct story, but the first editions were still out there as evidenced by the famous photograph of Truman holding up one which boldly proclaimed “Dewey Defeats Truman.” It was, and still is, a classic example of what happens when one assumes.
There are a lot of assumptions in our text for today. From the very beginning to the very end, people assume different things only to be found incorrect.
The first assumption is that of those in the village where Jesus sends his disciples to collect a colt. As the disciples are untying the colt, just as Jesus had told them to, they are questioned by those nearby. They want to know what is happening and why these men are taking this colt. Implied are the questions: Don’t they know that it belongs to someone? And this someone might not take too kindly to the appropriating of their property? The assumption is that the disciples are there to steal the colt. But the disciples put their minds to rest by telling the people what Jesus had told them to say. Based on the response, the ones who were questioning the disciples let them take the colt. It makes me wonder what the disciples might have been assuming. Were they assuming that they would be able to get the colt without any difficulty? Maybe they assumed that Jesus had already coordinated with the owner to have the colt ready and that the owner was willing to loan to colt to Jesus. We do not know. What we do know is that there were assumptions all around that day in the village where the colt was and that the assumptions were put to rest with the words of Jesus.
The next assumption must have been from the disciples. They traveled with Jesus and had heard Peter proclaim that he was the Messiah. They argued over who would be the greatest in the kingdom. They were ready for the announcement that this would come to be. Now, here they are. The colt is there, one that has never been ridden, a sign of royalty. Jesus is ready to ride, another sign that he is about to come into his own. The time is the Passover, when expectations of a messiah coming to lead the people were at an all time high. Why wouldn’t the disciples assume that this would be the time that Jesus was waiting for and that he was about to announce the new kingdom? So, they threw their cloaks on the back of the colt so that Jesus would have a saddle and accompanied him on his way to Jerusalem. Surely they were praising God and proclaiming that the kingdom was on its way to the people now.
I say that surely they were calling out because the people who were walking toward Jerusalem began to pick up the refrain. Here they were walking and someone is riding on a colt. This someone had to be important. Only someone who had dignity would be riding. Only someone who could be doing something big would be coming to the city in this manner. And so, the assumptions continued.
The assumption begins to snowball as the people would think that this someone was royalty. Only a king or a conqueror rode anywhere; everyone else walked. So, what was this person doing? The people knew their scripture. They knew that Zechariah had proclaimed that the one who would deliver them would come on a colt, the foal of a donkey. They knew that this was just the beginning of the coming of the new kingdom. And here is one who is coming on a colt.
Not only that, but he is coming from the Mount of Olives. To understand why this is important, we must understand the geography. The Mount of Olives stands almost 2600 feet high and looks over the city of Jerusalem. On the road from Jericho it is the last height that is surmounted as one comes to Jerusalem. When one reaches the summit one can see the city and the surrounding area. It is enough to take one’s breath away.
The mountain is also important to the end times prophecies. This was where the Messiah was supposed to stand and split the mountain before bringing about the kingdom of God. It was where the beginning of the new age would take place. So, this mountain is loaded with the imagery of the one who is to come. And from here comes one riding a colt.
Based on this expectation the people line the road with their cloaks and with leafy branches they had cut from the fields (only John has that palm branches were used). They begin to proclaim “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”[1] Now this would have been something that they might have said on their way into Jerusalem in the first place. This is part of a hymn of praise that was said by those going into Jerusalem to the temple in the days of the kingdom. It was a song of praise to God. But it is also a prayer. The word hosanna originally, and still would, meant “Save us we pray”. This would have been what the people would say to end the occupation by Rome. By the time of Jesus, it had become a word of praise and used in a hymn of praise. But the original meaning would have still been there.
In Jerusalem there would have been other who were making assumptions. Zealots would have seen this as the perfect time to strike at the Romans. The city had swelled to many times its normal population, so much so that the Romans deployed extra troops to make sure that there would not be a riot. The religious leaders would have assumed that there was another rabble rouser coming into the city that they would have to deal with in order to keep the peace. And the Romans, well, it is hard to say what the Romans assumed. Had they assumed the worst they would have arrested Jesus before he even got into the gates. But they did not. This might have been because that the group accompanying Jesus was quite small. They would have seen this as just another crowd coming in that was singing like they had all done before. Plus, they had seen triumphal entries before and brother this was not what they looked like. In fact, according to Mark all this celebration ended before Jesus enters the gates. And the assumptions went on.
But they assumed wrong. Jesus entered on a donkey colt, yes, but that would have meant that he did not come to lead a revolution. A king coming on a donkey would mean that he came with peaceful intentions. So, this first assumption is corrected. Those who accompanied him should have known that Jesus was humble enough to not call these people to him.
Those who wanted a violent overthrow of the occupation should have noticed that Jesus carried no weapons nor any of the trappings of a warrior. The religious leaders would have to wait for the time to come when their assumptions would be dashed. And the people who were looking for a kingdom that was brought in by a conquering hero would see their assumptions dashed as well in the week to come.
The last assumption would have come after Jesus is in the city. We are told that he goes to the temple. Here the disciples were on pins and needles. Here, finally, Jesus would declare who he was and what he was there to do. But those assumptions are shown be just that, assumptions. Jesus comes into the temple, looks around at the place and then heads out back to Bethany where he will be staying. It was late, there was not much to do or did Jesus really have anything to do at that time? For such an exciting time on the road to Jerusalem, this is a rather anticlimactic ending. No stirring speeches, no strong teaching, nothing that would announce the coming of the kingdom. And those who assumed that this was the beginning would go back to where they were staying disappointed.
What happens when you assume? You get the wrong ideas about things. You think that you know what is going to happen and yet you really do not because you do not have all the information. Like the Israelites on the road to Jerusalem on that day, we may believe the God is on the side of whatever group or nation to which we belong. David Garland has this to say about this notion: “…people still drape Jesus in nationalist flags and assume that he not only endorses their political slogans but will work to accomplish them[2]. Jesus does not come to fulfill anyone’s political agenda.[3]” And yet there is the assumption that God is with this group or that group.
When we assume, we miss what is right in front of us. We assume all too often that God is going to bless us because of who we are and what we do. We want the glory that comes with being a part of the kingdom but only that kingdom as we believe it should be, what it should be on our terms. But instead, Jesus does this: he come in humility. He comes with no agenda that is going to have him placed on a throne. Again, Garland has this to say: “If we hail Jesus, we must hail him as the one who comes to die for our sins, not as the one who comes to bring us glory. We must hail him as one who gives his life for the kingdom of God, not as the one who sets up the kingdom of David.[4]” Or the kingdom of us for that matter.
But the reality is even better news. The one who was proclaimed the Messiah is the Messiah. He did come to set up a kingdom, one based on grace and mercy. We can see that grace and mercy when we get past what we assume to be the correct answer. When we get the right information, when we see that what we assumed was wrong, then we can know the grace that God gives. Amen.
[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989. Print.
[2] Garland, David E. Mark. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.
[3] Garland, David E. Mark. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.
[4] Garland, David E. Mark. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.
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