Thursday, May 1, 2014

Homeless Jesus

I thank Judy Capozzola for sharing with me this NPR post, which I have edited down a bit and now re-post, followed by a few of my own observations and experiences:

A new religious statue in Davidson, N.C., is unlike anything you might see in church. The statue depicts Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench. St. Alban’s Episcopal Church installed the homeless Jesus statue on its property in the middle of an upscale neighborhood filled with well-kept town homes. Jesus is huddled under a blanket with his face and hands obscured; only the crucifixion wounds on his uncovered feet give him away.

The reaction was immediate. Some loved it; some didn’t. “One woman from the neighborhood actually called police the first time she drove by,” says David Boraks, editor of “She thought it was an actual homeless person.” That’s right. Somebody called the cops on Jesus.

“Another neighbor, who lives a couple of doors down from the church, wrote us a letter to the editor saying it creeps him out,” Boraks added.

Some neighbors feel that it’s an insulting depiction of the son of God, and that what appears to be a hobo curled up on a bench demeans the neighborhood.

The bronze statue was purchased for $22,000 as a memorial for a parishioner, Kate McIntyre, who loved public art. The rector of this liberal, inclusive church is the Rev. David Buck, a 65-year-old Baptist-turned-Episcopalian who seems not at all averse to the controversy, the double takes and the discussion the statue has provoked. “It gives authenticity to our church,” he says. “This is a relatively affluent church and we need to be reminded ourselves that our faith expresses itself in active concern for the marginalized of society.”

The sculpture is intended as a visual translation of the passage in the Book of Matthew, in which Jesus tells his disciples, “As you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me.” Moreover, Buck says, it’s a good Bible lesson for those used to seeing Jesus depicted in traditional religious art as the Christ of glory, enthroned in finery. “We believe that that’s the kind of life Jesus had,” Buck says. “He was, in essence, a homeless person.”
The most high-profile installation of the bronze Jesus on a park bench will be on the Via della Conciliazione, the avenue leading to St. Peter’s Basilica — if the city of Rome approves it. Schmalz traveled to the Vatican last November to present a miniature to the pope himself. “He 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,” Schmalz says. “It was like, that’s what he’s doing throughout the whole world: Pope Francis is reaching out to the marginalized.”

Back at St. Alban’s in Davidson, the rector reports that the Jesus the Homeless statue has earned more followers than detractors. It is now common, he says, to see people come, sit on the bench, rest their hand on the bronze feet and pray. 
Rev. David Buck sits next to the Jesus the Homeless statue installed in front of his church

Forgive me. Change of mind. Change of heart. Why would I offer "a few of my own observations and experiences" if Scripture makes all the necessary points so much more effectively? I will just point out the undeniable fact: Jesus was homeless and poor, very poor. 

A teacher of the law came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but I have no place to lay my head.” Matthew 8:19-20 

... though Jesus was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:34-40

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Hebrews 13:1-3

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. James 2:14-18