It’s the gaping wounds in the feet that reveal the subject, whose face is draped and barely visible, as Jesus the Homeless.
Jesus has been depicted in many different ways throughout history, but a new sculpture in downtown Toronto — as a homeless man sleeping on a bench — is causing quite a stir. According to the Toronto Star, the sculpture was “rejected by two prominent Catholic churches, St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.” Despite the fact that “Rectors of both cathedrals were enthusiastic about the bronze piece,” superiors in both the Toronto and New York archdiocese turned it down. The sculptor, Timothy Schmalz says,
Homeless Jesus had no home. How ironic. It was very upsetting because the rectors liked it, but when it got to the administration, people thought it might be too controversial or vague.
He was told “it was not an appropriate image.”
The sculpture, whose message is “Jesus identifying with the poorest among us,” finally found a home outside Regis College at the University of Toronto. According to the Star, Regis college is a “Jesuit school of theology, where priests and lay people are trained, with an emphasis on social justice.” When theologian Thomas Reynolds first saw the sculpture, he says he felt “the shock of recognition,” and quoted the biblical passage, “… the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Reynolds explains that he is “used to seeing imaged of Jesus that are palatable,” but the sculpture of Jesus as a homeless man is “provocative” because it “punctures the illusion of normalcy.” He says,
In certain ways, Christian communities have been privileged and considered themselves the norm in society and that has made Christians comfortable in our complacency.
However, not everyone is comfortable with these types of interpretations of Jesus. A mission in Branson, Missouri, called “Jesus Was Homeless,” which is run by Bryan and Amy Stallings, that serves about 1,000 homeless a week has fallen under scrutiny for their chosen name. Stallings says critics tell them that “Jesus wasn’t homeless,” but once he references Scripture, “it sparks tons of conversation.” He explains,
People who have issue with it are usually the staunch religious people, especially those who follow prosperity teaching and doctrine that says if you are homeless or poor you don’t have enough faith.
Reverend Gordon Dixon, the dean of the Jesuit college that is now home to Schmalz’s sculpture says, “It’s one of the most inviting and authentic representations of Jesus. There’s the suggestion there is the king and he is answering our culture with his poverty, vulnerability and weakness.”