A homeless Jesus statue that depicts the Son of God as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench has sparked debate in the religious community. Jesus is laying in a blanket with hands and face obscured. The crucifixion scars on his visible feet reveal his identity. Some people believe the statue is insulting while others feel it gives the church authenticity. Timothy Schmalz, the creator of Homeless Jesus is a Canadian sculptor and devout Catholic, knew his Jesus the Homeless would be provocative and spark controversy.
Religious art typically depicts Jesus as saintly, reverential, and floating above humanity or healing them with his touch; often he is presented as a baby or being crucified on a cross. But a sculpture which appears to be a hobo curled up on a bench has caused a host of controversy. The life-size bronze work is titled, appropriately, Homeless Jesus, on the artist’s website. According to the website the sculpture was inspired by Matthew 25. It goes on to state:
This sculpture is a representation that suggests Christ is with the most marginalized in our society. The Christ figure is shrouded in a blanket the only indication that it is Jesus is the visible wounds on the feet. The life-size version of the work has enough room that someone is able to sit on the bench.
Although some feel the image demeans the neighborhood, other Christians think the statue is a tribute and great reminder for people of all faiths. It sends the message that all humanity is one and they should care for others such as the sick, needy or less fortunate. After one woman saw it for the first time, she called the police believing it was an actual homeless person. The woman said she “was concerned for the safety of the neighborhood” and such an image has the ability to freak people out.
Amid great controversy, the Jesus the Homeless statue has earned more followers than detractors. It is now commonplace for people to come and sit on the bench, leave gifts and even rest their hand on the bronze feet and pray. Last November, Schmalz traveled to the Vatican to present a miniature replica of the high-profile statue to the pope. He described the experience as follows:
Pope Francis walked over to the sculpture, and it was just chilling because he touched the knee of the Jesus the Homeless sculpture, and closed his eyes and prayed. It was like, that is what he I doing throughout the whole world, he is reaching out to the marginalized.
Commentators of Scripture believe many in the religious community have a total misconception of how Jesus lived during his tenure on earth. Contrary to some teachings, they do not support the theory that the Son of God was a homeless vagabond or hippie, roaming the streets without a place to live. The biblical reference to Jesus being a poor man, according to some scholars, is nothing more than a comparison between the richness of the immortal God who owns everything, and the poverty of man whose insignificant riches could be here today and gone tomorrow.
Jesus, as the firstborn son of a carpenter, would have been trained in the occupation of his father so he could continue it after the patriarch died. The occupation of a carpenter included that of an architect who would build houses. It is therefore very likely that Joseph would have built a house for himself and his family; and that Jesus, as his son, would also have been engaged in building houses.
This leaves many to question what was meant when the Bible states Jesus had nowhere to lay his head. According to Dave Barnhart, pastor of Saint Junia in Birmingham, AL, the reference of laying down one’s head in the Hebrew Bible usually means “being able to do so in peace.” Barnhart added:
Foxes and birds to not live in their respective shelters—it’s where they go to be safe. The would-be disciple is warned that following Jesus means perpetual danger, sleeping with one eye open, always on the run.
The controversy surrounding Homeless Jesus is intentional according to the creator. It is a visual reminder that Christians are called to recognize, love, and serve Jesus in one another, especially in the poor and marginalized. Whether the Son of God had a place to lay his head or not, the hope is that this statue of the homeless, faceless, man on the bench will inspire people to recognize Jesus in many disguises and make every effort to serve humanity as such.
By Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
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Ministry Matters: Why Jesus Wasn’t Homeless
Top and Featured Image Courtesy of michael_swan – Flickr License
Inline Image Courtesy of Peter O’Sullivan – Flickr License