Recently NPR carried the story of a statue of Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench, installed on the property of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in the middle of an affluent neighborhood in Davidson, NC. It depicts Jesus huddled under a blanket with his face and hands obscured; only the mark of the nails on his uncovered feet identify him.
NPR reports the reaction was immediate. Some loved it; some didn’t.
One woman called police the first time she drove by, thinking it was an actual homeless person. Others felt 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 as a memorial for a parishioner who loved public art. The rector, the Rev. David Buck, a 65-year-old Baptist-turned-Episcopalian, is not 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. We need to be reminded that our faith expresses itself in active concern for the marginalized.”
The sculpture is intended as a visual expression of Matthew 25. “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.”
Sculptor Timothy Schmalz says he understands that his Jesus the Homeless is provocative.
“That’s essentially what the sculpture is there to do,” he says. “It’s meant to challenge people.”
Back at St. Alban’s, 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.
Adapted from report by John Burnett on NPR. Full text here.