Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz has become quite well know for a recent life-size sculpture of a person under a blanket sleeping on a park bench.
It’s only when you get closer to the sculpture that you can see his nail-scarred feet, and you realize that you’re looking at a depiction of Jesus, homeless, asleep on a park bench.
A picture is worth a 1,000 words. In one swift moment, we are confronted with our treatment for those who have been forgotten and pushed to the margins of our society. We are confronted with our Christianity, our religiosity that has often replaced God’s value for life and every individual.
The image provokes more thought and compassion than entire books written on faith, and it calls for more action than a pastor can inspire on any given Sunday.
Last month, a replica was placed outside a church in a suburban North Carolina college town, and controversy quickly followed. Why? Because homeless don’t “belong” in our town, Jerry Dawson wrote to the local editor of davidsonnews.net:
“My complaint is not about its art-worthiness … It is about people driving into our beautiful, reasonably upscale neighborhood and seeing an ugly homeless person sleeping on a park bench.”
Dawson is speaking about a statue, but I couldn’t help but hear the reverberations in Maple Ridge of people speaking about others in the same way.
“Homeless Jesus” demands that we see the dignity and humanity in every individual, calling us to recognize the face of Jesus in everyone and that each are reflecting the image of God.
“Homeless Jesus” calls our attention to the role of the Church and individuals, to be a light in this world, to bring the Kingdom of God here, to be a reflection of God in our community. If we recognize the face of Jesus in every individual, even those who are homeless, criminals, addicts, then we begin to do just that, reflect God’s love in our world.
That’s what following Christ is really about. When we value life as God does, it changes the way we think about and live our Christian faith.
Jesus summarized our call, “Love God … Love people.”
In doing that, everything falls into place.
All of the religiosity disappears.
See the face of God in every individual, and the world changes.
Faith changes. And people notice.
Bradley Christianson-Barker is pastor at Open Door Church.