the story of james and tony

Field, Flowers, Grain, Nature, Outdoors, Plants, Processed, Summer, Vignette, Wheat, United States

Written by Joe McGarry

I am a Lutheran Pastor (ELCA) in Upstate New York. I am married and have two children. I blog at Lutheran Grilled Cheese about how we connect with God and our daily lives.

July 13, 2011

Field, Flowers, Grain, Nature, Outdoors, Plants, Processed, Summer, Vignette, Wheat, United States

There are two men standing at the gates of heaven to get in.

The first man James grew up in a tough neighborhood, his father left him when he was young and his mother worked three jobs just to get by.  Eventually he got caught up in the wrong crowd.  Instead of playing basketball, or football, instead of going to the library to study he was on the street corner with his “buddies.”  This led to many nights away from home, and his mother was constantly worried about him and his safety.  However, there was little that she could do, she felt like she already lost him and she was right.  On his 18th birthday he was told that had to pull a robbery with some of the new recruits.  This would solidify his membership in the gang.  This was the night that changed his life.  The robbery turned bad and he got caught.  He was brought to trial as an adult and sentenced to six years in jail.


The other man standing at the gates of heaven was Tony.  Now Tony grew up on the other side of town.  He had anything and everything he could ever ask for. However, he yearned for his family.  His father was an executive who worked all the time and his mother was a successful photographer who traveled a lot.  He knew his nanny better than his parents.

Christmas was a special time for Tony because his parents made sure they were home.  They hosted lots of parties so they could see all of their friends.  But they also had family time.  They went to church Christmas Eve and at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church then they went home and opened up presents while drinking hot chocolate.  Tony loved going to church because it was there that he experienced the kind of family that he always wanted.  He saw people who cared for one another, he had strangers come up to him with smiles on their face wishing him a Merry Christmas.  During church he watched as the children did a Christmas play about the birth of Jesus, he heard the words from the pastor that night telling him the wonders of Jesus’ birth and how that birth was important in the world because that child would grow up to change the world.  Each year Tony left church uplifted and hopeful and happy.  When Tony left church that Christmas night after he turned 18 his life was changed.  He knew he was going to college soon and he might not experience this feeling again.  So Tony left that night determined to change the world and to learn more about Jesus and his love.

Who would you consider a child of the wheat a child of the weeds? James or Tony?

James spent the first 4 years in prison trying to be the tough guy, he was in a lot of fights, spent a lot of time in “the hole” for his behavior.  At the start of his fifth year he was sitting in the dark of his cell and he started thinking about his life.  He was 23 years old and he had nothing to show for himself.  He had no friends, he had no family, he had nothing.  He cried to himself to sleep that night.  When he woke he was a changed man — still trying to figure things out he did not talk or look at anyone for the next week.  He started to reevaluate his life; how he acted and how he treated others.  Then he sat down and he wrote a letter to his mother.  He had not talked with her for  the last five years and he prayed that the letter would make it to her.  He requested a Bible from the prison chaplain and he started to read it.  James’ mother received his letter and she wrote back.  They exchanged letters for the next year and eventually she started to visit him.  She eventually moved to North Carolina where the prison was and she started to build a life for her and her son upon his release.  Six years after he walked into the prison he walked out a free man.  His mother was there to greet him and as soon as he walked out he saw her and they embraced.


After high school Tony’s dream life continued.  He went to Yale and graduated with high honors.  While in college he ran track and was involved in campus ministry.  He met Cindy his second year of college during a Bible study and he knew right away that she was the love of his life.  They dated the rest of their time at Yale and on the day of their graduation he proposed and she said yes.  After graduation Tony took his business degree and started working for his father’s company. Cindy started to work as a teacher, teaching second grade.  Six years after he walked out of St. Paul’s inspired by the Holy Spirit to change his life Tony walked town the aisle and said yes to his wife and to God.

Who would you consider a child of the wheat a child of the weeds? James or Tony?

It was hard for James to become a contributing member of society.  No one wanted to give a second chance to an ex con.  He did get his GED while in prison and took a couple of college courses but he was having trouble finding a job.  He eventually got a chance working for a man who was a contractor.  This man needed some cheap help and James fit the bill.  While James did not do much in construction he took the job and worked really hard to get things right.  He worked day and night trying to learn on the job and he was able to bring home money to help pay the bills.

On Sunday’s he went to church with his mother.  He found his faith while in prison but he was not sure how the church would view him because of his past.  It turned out that they welcomed him with open arms.  He eventually joined the property committee and he was very active in the church.  At home he and his mother were saving money so they could move back to their hometown.

James did so well that he eventually took over the construction company when his boss retired.  He kept working hard and his company grew and grew.  As he got older he wanted to live his dream.  So at the age of forty he sold the company and moved back to the wrong side of town with his mother to start a nonprofit group.  James dedicated the rest of his life to working with troubled teens to help them stay off the streets and to stay in school.


Tony and Cindy were happy.  They conceived their first child on their honeymoon.  They had two more children, twins.  He was a successful business man and she was a successful second grade teacher.  They had a nice house, they took fancy vacations, and they were active in the church.  But one day their dreams came crashing down.

Cindy came home early from school one afternoon because she was not feeling well.  She found Tony in their home cheating on her.  She confronted him and found out this was not the first time, she also found out that he had a gambling problem.  Their world started to end.

Eventually they split up – he lost his job and he found himself on the street.  His friends tried to reach out to him, his family tried to reach out to him, even Cindy did not want to see him like this, but he was ashamed, hurt, depressed and did not want to talk to anyone.  He spent the next few years on the street sad, and lonely.  He not only lost his faith in God but his faith in himself too, he did not know who he was anymore.

After a few years away he moved back, he rented a studio apartment and tried to rebuild his life.  It was hard, he still had his addictions and he could not go back to the way things were anymore.  But he took things one day at a time.  One snowy Christmas eve he went back to St. Paul’s Lutheran church and he walked in and he was greeted and welcomed like he never left.  It brought back memories of his childhood and all the years with his wife.  After that service he cleaned himself up, got a respectable job and started becoming the father he always wanted to be.

Who would you consider a child of the wheat a child of the weeds? James or Tony?

It so happened that James and Tony were on the same bus one day when it crashed, they both died.  Now they are standing at the gates of heaven awaiting their future.

What do you think should happen?

The purpose of the parable is not to give us an outline to judge one another, it is to help us look at ourselves and into our lives.  It is to show us that God is in charge.  We are not perfect, we cannot be perfect.  Some days we are more like the weeds, other days we are more like the wheat.  If we cannot always tell within ourselves how can we tell who the weeds are and who the wheat are around us?  The examples of James and Tony is to show you  that they, that we are imperfect human beings.  They each have a story to tell like we do.  In the end I have sure confidence that they will both end up in the loving, gracious arms of God.  A God who will tell them both that He loves them just the way that they are and that He is glad they finally came home.  So instead of judging one another, let us open ourselves up to the wonders of God’s creation.  Let us open ourselves up to a loving, faithful God who calls each of us by name and who loves us all the same.

1 Comment

  1. Punkylh

    I liked this a lot.  There’s some of Tony and James in each one of us — and God loves us, no matter what.  Isn’t that amazing?


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the story of james and tony

by Joe McGarry time to read: 9 min