In his book Tattoos on the Heart, Father Greg Boyle shares the story of Chico, a sixteen- year-old homeboy from the projects in Los Angeles. One day in May 1996, Chico called Boyle, known to the gangs as “G-dog” or usually just “G,” and asks the priest to “Kick me down with a jale,” i.e. find him a job. G went to meet Chico and found a shy kid with a quick smile who wanted to move past gangbanging and work with computers. G obliged, requiring that Chico attend school every day before work and meet with him every Friday afternoon to collect his paycheck. He quickly came to love the boy, who lost his shyness and peppered the priest with questions about God: “Is God pissed off if I have sex with my lady? What do you think heaven is like? Do you think God listens to us?” Boyle was devastated when he received a call from Chico’s mom saying the boy had been shot while standing on the sidewalk in front of his house.
It was the eighth funeral Boyle had officiated in three weeks.
Overcome with grief at the graveside, Father Boyle took a minute alone to try to absorb the loss. The mortician, an acquaintance, didn’t perceive his need for solitude and stood too close. Boyle writes:
I point feebly at Chico’s coffin and know that I need to find some words to fill our blank air. “Now that,” I whisper to the intruder,” was a terrific kid.” And the mortician, in a voice so loud and obnoxious that it turns all the heads of the gathered mourners, says, “HE WAS?”
Man looks at outward appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7
How quick we are to size each other up, based on a glance. We take in hair, skin, height, clothes, jewelry, body art. Does she stand with her head held high? Does he slouch, avoiding your eyes? Before a word is said, we think we know, and we have an opinion about what we think we know.
If we are honest, most of us are capable of the mortician’s judgment. All he knew about the boy in the casket was based on tattoos, piercings, and a violent death in the ghettos of LA. The mortician assumed that there was nothing “terrific” about a kid like that. Chico didn’t look like a suburban choirboy with a heart seeking God, and yet in fact Chico was seeking both God and a healthier life in the best way he knew how. And even if he hadn’t been, Chico was a young man made in the image of God, and his life ended tragically too soon.
Boyle cites a favorite line from “O Holy Night” to describe what Chico found before his death: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining- ‘til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.” Chico, like all of us, had to be shown the great worth of his soul. Jesus gave His life for Chico, and Father Boyle appeared to point Chico to Jesus.
If God considered the Chicos of the world worth dying for, how much more ought I to look for Chicos to treasure? Those Chicos- the hopeless, despairing, downtrodden and trapped- are everywhere, not just in the ghettos of LA. How quickly I forget, because of pride and judgment, the worth of another soul. When I judge someone else too different or too scary or too sin-hardened to approach with the love of Christ, I am forgetting that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and I am no better than a drug-addicted plenty-pierced knife-toting gang member. The same is true when I see at my neighbor and judge her apparent perfection. Look at her gorgeous hair, skin and teeth, her immaculate house and fancy car, her award-winning children and doting, brilliant husband- how could she need me to show her the worth of her soul- surely she knows how dazzling she is…? Whether my judgment results in envy, or fear, or pride, the effect is the same. I am blinded to my own sin and fail to minister love to those around me.
Tim Keller says, “The experience of your own sin means you never look down your nose at anybody else. The experience of your own sin means you become a humble and cautious person. The experience of your own sin means you become incredibly approachable and very very patient with other people… “ (Tim Keller sermon podcast 12/3/15) An awareness of my need for Jesus humbles me, yet in that humbling I am given a God’s-eye view into the hearts of other needy people. Jesus begins to stir in me a desire to meet other sin-prone people exactly where they are, and to treat them like people whose souls are worth everything to Jesus.
Please watch this. It will make your day. Here’s a teacher who knows and values and enjoys every kid he teaches: