Some people are just doomed to be failures. That’s something we sometimes say. It is just the judgement being made in the story in our gospel reading. As out talk for this morning, I want to tell you a story about a teenager called T. J. Ware:
Some people are just doomed to be failures. … T. J. Ware was made to feel this way almost every day in school.
By high school, T. J. was the neighbourhood troublemaker. Teachers cringed when they saw he was in their class. He wasn’t very talkative, didn’t answer questions and got into lots of fights. He had failed every test throughout his school career.
Everyone at the school as invited to sign up for training, about becoming more involved in their communities. T. J. was one of 405 young people who signed up.
The community leaders briefed the course leader: We have a real spectrum represented today, from the brightest student to T. J. Ware, the boy with the longest arrest record in our part of the city.” This wasn’t the first time T.J had been described this way.
At the start of the weekend course, T. J. was literally standing outside the circle of students, against the back wall, with that “go ahead, impress me” look on his face. He didn’t readily join the discussion groups, didn’t seem to have much to say. But slowly, he got drawn in.
The ice really melted when the groups started to build a list of positive and negative things that had occurred at school that year. T. J. had some definite thoughts on those situations. The other students in T. J.’s group welcomed his comments. All of a sudden T. J. felt like a part of the group, and before long he was being treated like a leader. He was saying things that made a lot of sense, and everyone was listening. T. J. was actually quite smart, and he had some great ideas.
The next day, T. J. was very active. By the end of the course, he had joined the Homeless Project team. He knew something about poverty, hunger and hopelessness. The other students on the team were impressed with his passionate concern and ideas. They elected T. J. co-chairman of the team.
When T. J. showed up at school on Monday morning, he arrived to a firestorm. A group of teachers were protesting to the headteacher about T. J. being elected co-chairman. The very first community-wide service project was to be a giant food drive, organized by the Homeless Project team. These teachers couldn’t believe that the headteacher would allow this crucial beginning to stay in the incapable hands of T. J. Ware.
They reminded the headteacher, “He has an arrest record as long as your arm. He’ll probably steal half the food.” The headteacher reminded them that the purpose of the course was to uncover any real passion that a student had and reinforce its practice until true change can take place. The teachers left the meeting shaking their heads in disgust, firmly convinced that failure was imminent.
Two weeks later, T. J. and his friends led a group of 70 students in a drive to collect food. They collected a school record: 2,854 cans of food in just two hours. It was enough to fill the empty shelves in two community centres, and the food took care of needy families in the area for 75 days.
The local newspaper covered the event with a full-page article the next day. That newspaper story was posted on the main bulletin board at school, where everyone could see it. T. J.’s picture was up there for doing something great, for leading a record-setting food drive. Every day he was reminded about what he did. He was being acknowledged as leadership material.
T.J. started showing up at school every day and answered questions from teachers for the first time. He led a second project, collecting 300 blankets and 1,000 pairs of shoes for the homeless shelter. The event he started now yields 9,000 cans of food in one day, taking care of 70 percent of the need for food for one year.
T. J. reminds us that we cannot judge people by their appearance and that we need to leave all final judgements about people to God. What appear to be weeds may well turn out to be something very different!
1. https://theoutsiderslizm.weebly.com/tj-ware.html, accessed on 13th July 2020.