Monday, April 28, 2014

the least of these: Jesus the Homeless

A few weeks back NPR covered the installation of a new statue of Jesus at an Episcopal Church in North Carolina.

Big news, right? A statue of Jesus. At a church.

But this is unlike most--maybe any--statues of Christ you'll ever see. The piece is called simply "Jesus the Homeless," and it depicts Jesus wrapped up in a blanket, sleeping on a bench. He's only identifiable by his nail-scared bare feet that the blanket couldn't cover. The statue, according to NPR's report, is "intended as a visual translation" of a line in Matthew 25, where Jesus describes the day of judgment, when 'the Son of Man' (a title Jesus uses for himself) will return and reign as king over the world. Jesus then explains for us why the king will call some "blessed by my Father" and invite them to "inherit the kingdom prepared for you for 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 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'. (25:35-40)

As the passage goes on, the wicked are likewise puzzled, unsure when it was that they turned Jesus away, refusing to give him food or drink or clothing... only to find out that they turned Jesus away every time they ignored the needs of "the least of these." The homeless guy, sleeping on the bench, whom you can either help or ignore--that's Jesus.

The statue has received some strong reactions. According to NPR,
Some loved it; some didn't.

"One woman from the neighborhood actually called police the first time she drove by," says David Boraks, editor of "She thought it was an actual homeless person."

That's right. Somebody called the cops on Jesus.

"Another neighbor, who lives a couple of doors down from the church, wrote us a letter to the editor saying it creeps him out," Boraks added.

Some neighbors felt it was an insulting depiction of the Son of God, and what appears to be a hobo curled up on a bench demeans the neighborhood.

I personally think it's a beautiful piece, and it communicates the force of the passage in Matthew more powerfully than anything I've seen before. Of course, there's also a striking irony in a church erecting a $22,000 bronze statue to teach that Jesus expected us to care for the poor, but I don't really care to get into that debate.

Instead, I just wanted to bring this "visual translation" to your attention, so maybe those of us trying to be disciples can encounter Jesus' call in a new way.

What do you think of "Jesus the Homeless"? Is it a good interpretation of Matthew 25? How would it go over at your church?

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