Sunday thoughts: Homeless Jesus

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. — Hebrews 13:2 (NRSV)

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Davidson, North Carolina recently installed a statue of Jesus as a homeless man. Not everyone in the community is a fan of their new artwork.

From a distance, especially at dusk, you would swear the sculpture is a real-life homeless man sleeping on a bench in front of the church.

Cindy Castano Swannack called police the first time she drove by it.

“I was concerned for the safety of the neighborhood,” she said […]

Swannack says it’s an inappropriate message and wrong for the neighborhood. She wishes it showed Jesus standing over the homeless protecting them.

“Jesus is not a vagrant, Jesus is not a helpless person who needs our help,” she said, “We need someone who is capable of meeting our needs, not someone who is also needy.”

Timothy P. Schmalz, the artist who created the statue, presented a model of Homeless Jesus to Pope Francis, who “prayed over the statue and blessed it.” He told the Toronto Star last fall that Cathedrals in Toronto and New York had rejected the sculpture (PDF). Schmalz has said that the piece, like his famous statue of Jesus as a beggar (“Whatsoever You Do“) and his interpretation of Jesus as a prisoner (“When You Visited Me“)

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, was inspired by Matthew 25:

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ — Matthew 25:34-40 (NRSV)