Lenten Devotional: March 12, 2021

by John Cole Vodicka

Mark 8:29-35:
Jesus then asked his disciples, “And you—what are you saying about me?  Who am I?”
Peter gave the answer: “You are the Christ, the Messiah.”
Jesus warned them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone.  He then began explaining things to them: “It is necessary that the Son of Humanity proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.”  
He said this simply and clearly so they wouldn’t miss it.
But Peter grabbed him in protest.  Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter.  “Peter, get out of my way!  Satan, get lost!  You have no idea how God works.”Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead.  You’re not in the driver’s seat: I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it.  Follow me and I’ll show you how.  Self-help is no help at all.  Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self.  What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?  What could you ever trade your soul for?

Shamon is homeless.

A little over a month ago, on January 29, Shamon was hanging around the Circle K convenience store on Prince Avenue.  A clerk called the police complaining that the young 20-year-old African American was harassing customers.  The police arrived and barred Shamon from the convenience store for two years.  It was seven o’clock in the morning.  

Two hours later, at 9:14 a.m., police were called to the Prince Avenue McDonald’s.  Shamon had been sitting in the restaurant, bothering no one, but refusing to leave when asked to do so by the restaurant manager.  Shamon was barred from McDonald’s for two years.  

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

Three days later, on February 2, Shamon was resting in the Athens Piedmont Hospital waiting room on Prince Avenue.  Since he was not receiving medical attention, the security officer called the police.  Shamon was barred from the hospital for two years.  It was 9 a.m.

Forty minutes later, after crossing Prince Avenue from the hospital and entering McDonald’s, Shamon was again visited by police officers after the manager chose to press trespassing charges against him. Shamon told the police he was about to leave, but because he’d been barred from the restaurant just days earlier, they arrested him.  Shamon bolted from McDonald’s and ran across the street to the Krystal, where he was cuffed and taken to jail.  Shamon was released from jail the next day without having to pay any money to bond out on the misdemeanor trespassing offense.  

Two weeks later, at one in the morning on February 16, Shamon was arrested for trespassing at the downtown Waffle House.  He’d been previously barred from the establishment.  The police report states that they took Shamon to jail “without incident.”   He was again released on his own recognizance.

The next day, at 10 a.m., Shamon was back at the Prince Avenue McDonalds, sleeping at one of the tables.  Police were notified, Shamon was arrested.  He told the police he “wanted a place to stay and a meal to eat.”  Instead, he was handcuffed and jailed.  He was allowed to bond out again, on what was now his third trespassing charge.

On February 21, Shamon was arrested at the downtown Waffle House.  It was five in the morning.  He refused to leave the restaurant unless the police “took him to jail.”  They did.  

And two weeks later (at the time I’m writing this devotional) in jail he still sits, unable to post a $1,000 cash bond. 

Shamon is homeless, we know that.  Shamon also seemingly has no one to post his bail, nowhere other than a jailhouse to provide him with a warm bed to lay in and food to sustain him.  And he now has four misdemeanor trespassing charges to contend with, which, in all likelihood, will mean months of probation, a mental health evaluation and possible placement in a treatment program, medications which may or may not work, an electronic monitor to wear around his ankle, fines and fees and other conditions he’ll have to follow.

It is necessary that the Son of Humanity proceed to an ordeal of suffering…

Lent is not just a quiet and introspective time, but, as our passage tells us, a time of heightened conflict during which we are told to examine ourselves and our communities and to take an honest look at our captivity to the System.  Jesus is on his way to the cross—his execution—and tells his disciples to “embrace” suffering, not run from it.   “Follow me and I’ll show you how.”  Lent is a time to explore how our lives and our community have been shaped by the spirit of the System—a spirit of domination, greed, win, defeat, violence.

Recounting Shamon’s story is painful for me to do.  It forces me to acknowledge that there is much pain in our community, much brokenness and resistance to overcome.  

And friends, there is much pain in our community.  There is hunger, poverty, broken relationships, homelessness, race-hatred, jail and death.  It is agonizing for me to follow Shamon’s journey from convenience store to restaurants and a hospital—to a solitary jail cell on Lexington Road.  It is hard for me to admit that I share Shamon’s captivity to our criminal legal system.

“Satan, get out of the way!”   I must shake off the devil who wants to steal my soul.

So, on this Lenten journey, I’m asking that I not be afraid to go to places of pain.  I pray that I can find the courage and persistence to examine–even resist–a criminal legal system when and where it crushes my neighbors and fails to restore and reconcile us to one another.  God tells me it is in these places of pain where I will find the people Jesus calls me to serve.  I know if I don’t waver and let God lead me, She will take me to places where life has new meaning.

Prayer: Lord God my liberator and redeemer, help me break the chains that hold young Shamon in captivity, and give me the faith and courage to unloose my shackles so that I might find the freedom that Jesus offers.  Amen.