The bundled figure on the North Carolina park bench could have been any homeless man, curled up and trying to sleep. Well, except for two things.
First, the figure was made of metal.
Second, it had visible nail prints in its bare feet.
That’s right. The bench was being occupied by Homeless Jesus.
The sculpture, “Jesus the Homeless” by sculptor Timothy Schmalz, was made for St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Davidson, N.C. And it’s caused a bit of a commotion. According to NPR, a number of people have praised it (including the current Pope) while others have condemned it for bringing down the neighborhood, or just for depicting their Saviour as … well, a bum.
Me? Every time I’ve seen the statue surface on Facebook — which it has, many, many times — I’ve smiled. And my own personal faith is only part of the reason.
Oh, if this were a Sunday School class, I’d go into detail about Jesus’s admonition to serve him by serving “the least of these.” And I’d probably add a side order of Paul’s warning that in caring for a stranger, we may entertain angels without knowing it. But since I have a more ecumenical readership here, I’ll go to something a bit more basic.
Put bluntly, it’s an uncomfortable image. And I like that.
It forces us to see the unseeable.
We don’t like doing that. I know I don’t. There’s certain topics we instinctively avoid in conversation, certain sights we often turn away from. The ones that make us feel helpless. Or afraid. Or just strike too close to home.
It’s little kid logic. If we don’t see it, it’s not there.
In school, it’s easier not to notice the bully. Then he won’t beat us up. Right?
As adults, it’s easier not to talk about death. Then we won’t die. Right?
And at almost every stage of life, it’s easier not to notice the hurting, the poor, the afflicted. To look past the people who have nothing left except their presence. Then we don’t have to feel the mix of fear (what will he do?), embarrassment (did she notice me staring?), guilt (did I just think that?) and discomfort that’s bound to arise.
Especially the last. Because that’s the part that says all the disurbing things: “This shouldn’t be. Why is it? Why doesn’t someone do something?”
And then of course, the even less comfortable sequel: “I’m someone.”
If we don’t see it, it’s not there. But what we can’t ignore, we have to address.
That’s a huge prospect. Terrifying, even.
But is it as frightening as a people that would rather have the uncomfortable stay invisible?
I don’t know what the answers are. But I do know they won’t be reached by ignoring the questions. And so, I offer my thanks to St. Alban’s, to Mr. Schmalz and to everyone else involved for forcing the spotlight to where it doesn’t always want to go.
After all, consider the subject. There are stories of Jesus healing, teaching, lifting up, reaching out. I don’t remember any of him carefully looking the other way while walking past a leper.
He looked. He saw.