Tom was a cop and Jason was a teenage runaway in a gang. One night in 1997, when Tom and his partner approached Jason sleeping in his vehicle, things quickly became violent when Tom’s partner found a gun in Jason’s pocket. Jason ran toward a nearby home and Tom chased him and pepper-sprayed him. In the course of the altercation, Jason shot Tom in the neck.
Tom was rushed to the hospital. Jason was apprehended. Tom almost miraculously lived. Tom’s wife, Christy, says the following ten years were very dark. She was deeply depressed, angry, and wanted Jason dead.
Jason was sentenced to 19 years to life. Nine years into his sentence Jason went before the parole board and Tom was there. Tom was ready to testify to all the damage Jason had done to his life and his career, but what he didn’t expect was to hear the parole board rehearse the events of Jason’s life up until that fateful night.
Jason’s mother was a drug addict. His father was a drug dealer when he wasn’t in prison. Jason cared for his siblings as much as he could as a young boy. He would mow lawns in his neighborhood, $5 for the front and $5 for the back, just so he could buy bread and bologna for his siblings to eat. He joined a gang as a teenager as much for the affirmation and sense of belonging as he did for the protection.
On hearing this, Tom realized that he and Jason were like “rocket ships” on a collision course. Everything about the environment Jason was raised in led him to distrust police officers, to seek violence to solve problems, and to run when there is trouble. Every part of Tom’s training was about identifying and pursuing people like Jason. Tom and Jason were each provoked to violence based on how they were trained to respond to stressful situations.
After the parole hearing, Tom sought to speak to Jason with a mediator. This is a program that allows victims to meet their perpetrators and seek some kind of resolution. It was an emotional meeting for Tom and Jason that ultimately led to Tom and Christy forgiving Jason. Jason was released on parole sometime after that meeting and still has a relationship with Tom and Christy.
People change and evolve. There was more to Jason than just a “cop shooter.” Tom describes how he changed, too. There was a time in his career when he would be dispatched and tell people, “If the solution to your problem isn’t on my holster belt, you called the wrong person.” He doesn’t think about his job that way anymore.
Saul changed. Jason changed. Tom changed. You changed. None of us are static people in static environments. We all grow and change in ways that deserve to be recognized and acknowledged. We don’t throw people away. Tom didn’t throw Jason away. God didn’t throw Saul away, and ultimately neither did Saul’s community. Without Saul, the good news about Jesus Christ wouldn’t have spread. It is possible that without Saul’s change of heart and without a second chance, that we would not have the church community we have today.
We worship a God of second chances, a God who not only honors change and repentance but invented it. Who deserves a second chance from you?