Jesus lies on a park bench, covered by an inadequate blanket. You might just ignore him, write him off as just another homelessness statistic, a junkie or a skiver or a veteran with PTSD who can’t handle civilian life. But take a closer look – his feet are scarred with nail marks. We know who this is.
Homeless Jesus is a sculpture by Timothy Schmaltz, copies of which are on display in Texas and the Vatican. Currently, there’s a controversy about if and where a copy should be displayed in London (story here, petition here).
There’s something about the statue that gets to the heart of the Incarnation. Jesus doesn’t appear as a spiritual entity untouched by the world around him – he’s down here in the dirt and grime. This is someone who went through hell and spent 18 years on building sites. We tend to forget that – we put him on a pedastal as a great moral teacher and a source of inspirational quotations. And if he’s up there on a plinth, then it’s disruptive to see him sleeping on a bench.
But we divorce Jesus from the marginalised, or move him from the fringes, at our peril. This is a man who, were he here today in the flesh, would spend more than a few nights sleeping in the doorway of an off licence or contending with security guards and defensive architecture. That’s the sort of person he is. That’s why he had such a following among lepers and prostitutes, the beaten and the broken.
And so we want to honour him as Lord and Saviour, sure, but he’s the Servant King, and so it doesn’t feel appropriate to put him next to luminaries such as Churchill and Nelson. Homeless Jesus has the power to be prophetic, to speak truth to power, to remind us that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for him.
I’ve signed the petition to get the statue displayed in public. Because we don’t need a stained glass Jesus, we need the disruptive Jesus, Jesus of the margins, Jesus of the nail scars, Jesus of the benches and the doorways.
We need a homeless Jesus.