I remember the walk to the principal’s office vividly from my middle school years. It was an old, stained linoleum, hallway floor, but to me it felt like the green mile.
I was anxious, scared, and even curious to see how red I could turn my principal’s face the day I walked that hallway. I soon found out it’s a color Home Depot calls “Rosewood.”
Now for those of you wondering, yes, I deserved to be there, and I deserved the wrath. My principal wasn’t a bad guy and, from my 7th grade perspective, was a good principal. But from that moment forward, I couldn’t shake the feeling that every time I was close to him, I was in trouble. After all, his job was to make and enforce the rules. And my job…well “calling” was to bend the rules. I wasn’t a bad kid. I really tried to respect the rules, but – in the name of being funny, not paying attention, or 7th grade thoughtlessness – I broke them. Which in my mind didn’t make the principal someone to seek out, but someone to avoid.
Jesus cares more about you than the rules.
I had a similar view of God for the longest time. It makes sense because God makes and enforces the rules, and similar to my middle school self, I try to keep them but inevitably bend and break them. And so for many years, I viewed Jesus as Principal. To support my warped view of Him, I would look at Scriptures like Matthew 23:27, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” And John 2:15, “Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables.”
I would read these verses and think, “So that’s what happens when I break Your rules. Got it. I’ll try harder, Principal Jesus.” And ultimately, my view of Him would make me wary of getting too close to Him because, at my core, I’m a rule breaker.
Well, that same 7th grade year as I broke rules at school, I also broke plenty of rules at home. And my dad had a similar face-color-changing response, though his redness was more of a Terracotta Red. But what’s strange is that I didn’t view him as my principal. Yes, he made the rules. Yes, he enforced the rules. But I wasn’t terrified of him, nor did I feel like I had to hide from him.
Why not? What was different?
I knew my dad cared for me more than the rules. I knew that though following the rules made my relationship with my dad better, breaking them didn’t put a dent in his love for me. So the 7th grade me was drawn to that kind of care and love. And if I’m honest, that’s still the kind of love that draws me in today.
I referenced those passages that helped me bolster my view of “Principal Jesus,” but if I read all of the passage, I would’ve seen that in those instances something was missing: relationship. The Pharisees didn’t want a relationship with Jesus. They wanted the prestige of being able to follow the rules perfectly. The money changers in the temple didn’t want a relationship with God. They wanted profit. So Jesus was Principal.
But Jesus looked at other rule breakers and shared meals with them, invited them to walk with Him, fed them, healed them, and loved them. He told rule breakers the Kingdom of Heaven belonged to them, He would build His church with them, they were forgiven, they were new, they were valuable, they were His family! What was different between them and the first rule breakers? They wanted a relationship with Jesus more than anything else. So Jesus wasn’t Principal to them; He was Parent.
Maybe you struggle, like I have, with the picture of a disapproving principal and that keeps you far from God. But realize that He cares more about you than the rules. In Psalm 51:16 the psalmist says, “You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering.” He’s saying, “I would keep the rules but that’s not what you want most.” He goes on to say in verse 17, “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”
In other words, God wants me. The real me. The raw me. The rule breaker. Because Jesus isn’t our disapproving Principal; He is our devoted parent.
So come close. Come home.