Last April, heads began turning in Davidson, North Carolina, when St. Alban’s Episcopal Church unveiled a new sculpture – a homeless Jesus, lying on a park bench, wrapped in what appears to be a single blanket.
Reaction has been strong, both positive and negative, and that’s probably what Jesus would want: honest response.
The statue, one published report described, “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 townhomes.”
“Jesus is huddled under a blanket with his face and hands obscured; only the crucifixion wounds on his uncovered feet give him away.”
The bronze statue was purchased for $22,000 as a memorial for a parishioner.
The rector, the Rev. David Buck, a 65-year-old Baptist-turned-Episcopalian, seems not at all averse.
“It gives authenticity to our church,” he says.
The sculpture is intended as a visual translation of the passage in Matthew, in which Jesus tells his disciples, “As you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me.”
The biblical narrative doesn’t depict Jesus as having a nice middle-class bungalow but as a wanderer, an itinerant, a roving bearer of good news who accepts and depends on the generosity of many others.
That view of Jesus should inspire contemporary Christian action for the 3 million refugees who have fled various crises in the Middle East. They are scattered by the hundreds of thousands from Syria and its brutal war and in Iraq, seeking escape from the brutality of ISIS.
The statue, of course, cannot use its hands and feet to provide relief for refugees anywhere, but those who admire it and the idea of it can be God’s arms, legs, feet and assets to make a difference.
More than 6 million children desperately need humanitarian aid, the U.N.’s children’s agency and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have repeatedly said.
The U.N.’s relief arms have placed costs for making a difference at $3.740 billion, with only $1.61 billion so far received.
The same Jesus who identified with the marginalized and homeless 2,000 years ago expects nothing less of his followers in the 21st century.