Baker Academic

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Homeless Jesus

Timothy P. Schmalz's "Homeless Jesus"; 2012
Canadian artist Timothy P. Schmalz invites us to meet the real Jesus again in his interactive statue titled "Homeless Jesus." Schmalz's statue brings together several levels of aesthetic realism. (1) On the face of this faceless portrait, Jesus is realistic. He is so real that he has caused concerns among neighbors of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Davidson, North Carolina. (2) This leads us to ask the question, if homelessness wasn't a real issue in the first place, would anyone have called the police to have "Jesus" removed? (3) The only marks that distinguish this statue as "Jesus" are the nail wounds in both feet. But notice also that there is enough room on the bench to sit at these feet. Thus Schmalz's Jesus invites encounter and participation. Jesus becomes real on a fourth level as he is tactile.

But as the link above indicates, not every person in Davidson appreciates the invitation. Cindy Castando Swannack, a neighbor to St. Alban's Episcopal, found the statue off putting, "Jesus is not a vagrant, Jesus is not a helpless person, who needs our help."

In a way, Swannack interpretation falls in line with Christian orthodoxy. We Christians commemorate a risen Christ. John's Apocalypse guides us from a slain lamb to a victorious warrior. But even in our post-Easter reflections (and the biblical Gospels are just this) we see the image of a kingly judge who instructs:
‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from 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 naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Matt 25:34-36.

Finally, as Christians commemorate Good Friday, we pause to remember the forsaken Jesus. Christians throughout the ages have created sacred space and time to encounter the forsaken Jesus. This is what Swannack misses in her rush to censor Schmalz's statue and thus "clean up" the neighborhood.



  1. thanks, anthony--

    I appreciate the post very much. The discussion will find a place in my up-coming "Ethics of Jesus" seminar.

    (btw, lose the apostrophe in "Christians" -- last paragraph, first line)

  2. Interesting book coming out soon

  3. Love it. Thumbs up to the blog and the piece of art.

  4. "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

    Too on the nose?