There it was, last period of classes on a lazy Tuesday. A study period with the day winding down and kids getting feisty in anticipation of the beel to leave. Those were the circumstances under which the plan was hatched. The plan was troublemaking, of course, and it was going to take place after school, after everyone had left. It was then that we would seize the biology teacher’s tarantula for ransom. OK, more for the crazy laugh of it all. And we’d send ransom notes, and … we didn’t get beyond that, because goofy teens looking to make a prank don’t have that kind of foresight.
So, to make a long story short, my friend and I were caught having accidentally *killed* the biology teacher’s tarantula. What started out as a foolish prank, turned into the loss of a man’s beloved pet. And the result for us: 3 days of suspension from school.
In my senior year, word got around at some point about the principal eliminating suspenions off the records of the students. I decided it was time to see if he would do the same for me. So, one day I made an appointment and waited nervously in the seating area of the principal’s office. Finally I got called in, and the principal asked me what I had been suspended for. Nervously, I explained the gift of my suspension 3 years earlier. When he heard about the tarantula, he laughed, “Oh yes, I remember that.” He looked at my record. No doubt he saw that before my arachnicide, I had been a great student, and since then had matured. He took out my transcript and wrote something on it. I got a copy as I left and opened it up to see what he wrote. He said, “EXPUNGED” written over the suspension. That was it: my suspension was no longer on my record. Colleges couldn’t see it, no one would see it if they looked at my record. I felt a weight had been lifted off me.
I think it’s because the principal could see a bit beyond the incident to who I really am. He wasn’t my best friend, but he could see beyond that event 3 years earlier, that I was more than.
Do you remember the creation story in the bible? God creates everything in 5 days and on the sixth day, he tops it all off with his masterpiece: man and woman. We are made in God’s own image. Then, some time later on, the man and woman have a falling out with God, and they are kicked out of God’s special dwelling place. I say all that because there’s something important in that: before we were “sinners”, before we went off the rails, we were made in God’s image. That is what is first and more fundamental to us: we are made in the image of God. Not that we are sinners. What is more fundamental to who we is that we are God’s sons and daughters.
We get stuck on the sinner part. Adam and Eve hid themselves from God because after eating the fruit they thought of themselves as sinners instead of images of God. That’s what we do: the negative stuff we’ve done leaves a mark on us, and we forget that we are made in the image of God.
There is a story in John’s Gospel about a woman caught in adultery. Maybe you know the story. She is brought to Jesus and everyone is ready to stone her, but after a few moments with Jesus, everyone is gone and there’s been no stoning. All the condemnation is gone from her. You know why? Because Jesus sees beyond the adultery to what came first: image of God. Later on, he is going to say to the people, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (Jn 8:32) And this is the truth: what Jesus sees beyond whatever negative you’ve done or think you’ve done, to who you really are at your very creation. That is what sets us free.
Often that thought comes to me when I encounter a person living on the street, or a person no one seems to like, or a prisoner in jail. Someone has committed a crime and is in the news and everyone wants justice for them. Or, any politician. I think to myself, “One day, that person was a baby in a mother’s arms, an apple of someone’s eye, a cute young child who laughed and smiled and had people celebrating their very first steps in life, who hugged and kissed, full of innocence – just like any one of us.” I see that before they went off the rails in some way, they were an image of God. I hope that that allows me to see past whatever negative might be associated with them, to who they really are at their creation: a child of God.
No one does that like Jesus. No one else sees past *all* the baggage and wounds and mess that we might carry around inside from our past, no one sees beyond all that to our very core, to who we really are at our very creation.
Jesus is the best at making us free.
That’s why he is the King.
“As soon as we give God the chance, He remembers us. He is ready to completely and forever cancel our sin, because his memory – unlike our own – does not record evil that has been done or keep score of injustices experienced… God has no memory of sin, but only of us, of each of us, we who are his beloved children. And He believes that it is always possible to start anew, to raise ourselves up.” Pope Francis, 11/20/2016