God has sent me…to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners. – Isaiah 61:1 (NRSV)
“Sorry,” I said sheepishly as I slid a pile of books and my card across the desk. “I just returned something very late the other day. I’m sure I owe you a bunch.”
“Let’s see,” said the librarian, tapping away on the computer. “Yes, I see you returned something late. No charge.”
“What? It was like two months overdue!”
“We don’t have late fees anymore.”
“But…but, how are you going to balance your budget?!?” I spluttered.
She shrugged. “We want people to use the library more than we want the money.”
I should have been elated at dodging the hit to my wallet. Instead I was arguing for fines as if I had any idea how this or any library’s budget works. The briefest moment of curiosity and research would have revealed the disproportionate effects that library fines have on those who need free services the most, would have shown what a tiny fraction of most libraries’ budgets late fees represent.
But I’d been marinating in a culture of punishment, of prisons and fines and spankings and fees, for too long. I wasn’t ready for a world that loved people more than revenge. I couldn’t accept the freedom she was offering with both hands. I demanded punishment.
The librarian was having none of it. Eyeing the line lengthening behind me, she handed me my books with a firm smile. “You’re always welcome to make a donation if you’re worried about the budget,” she said. And then, like a prophet of the Lord seeing a future I wasn’t yet ready for: “Otherwise, no penalties.”
Teach me the value of your grace, O God, and teach me to accept it. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is a father, husband, homesteader and preacher living in rural upstate New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.