Welcoming The Homeless Jesus

Make Your Home in Me

“Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” -Matthew 8:20

I never fully appreciated this passage from scripture until my own experience as a homeless person in the early 1990s. I was broke and between jobs, with no place to live. Until I could figure things out, several friends generously invited me into their homes. I took care to move on to another friend’s house every three days so as not to be a burden. On a few nights I slept in my car, a truly humbling experience.

What is it about the homeless that makes people so uncomfortable? These are fellow human beings who have hit on hard times, often through no fault of their own. Loss of a job, the poor economy, or family circumstances can push people onto the streets, where they are disdained by general society. Exposed to the extremes of bitter winter or sweltering summer, they sleep in alleys or trash bins, fearful of discovery by the police while keeping a watchful eye out for predators or others who might do them harm.

Timothy Schmalz, a Canadian sculptor, created a controversial statue that takes its cue from the above scriptural passage. Entitled “Jesus the Homeless,” it’s a statue of a homeless person sleeping on a park bench. We know the man depicted is Jesus because his nail-wounded feet are poking out of his blanket.

Two cathedrals in the United States and Canada turned down the artist’s request to display his statue there. The rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church installed the statue in front of his church in Davidson, North Carolina, a wealthy community. Reaction was swift: some people loved it; others were aghast and saw it as a threat to their well-kept neighborhood. One citizen even called the police about “that homeless man” who is downgrading the neighborhood.

Right. Someone called the cops on Jesus. This statue is a parable in action, confronting people with the reality of the homeless in their midst, and how Jesus identifies with the marginalized and blesses them. Mr. Schmalz recently presented a model of his statue to Pope Francis, who was visibly moved as he blessed the image. Plans are now being made to display the statue on a Vatican street.

Ben Walther was also inspired by Matthew’s gospel and he quotes Jesus in his touching song, Make Your Home in Me. And while the lyrics do address the Jesus who identifies with the oppressed and marginalized, Ben turns the concept around and invites the homeless Jesus into his heart.

Your burden’s light and
your yoke is easy.
Your name is love and your grace is free.
My heart was locked but you had the key.
Make your home in me.

Born in the poverty of a manger, Jesus understands what it means to be homeless. May we invite the Lord to dwell within us, even as we reach out in love to shelter those are so close to his heart.

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