A new statue of Jesus in Davidson, North Carolina, depicts the religious figure as a homeless man huddled under a blanket on a park bench. Predictably, it has not met with universal acclaim, reports Hyperallergic.
On at least one occasion, residents of the wealthy college town have actually mistaken the statue for a real person and called the police. Jesus’s hands and face are obscured by a blanket, but he is identifiable by the nail marks on his feet. It is meant to serve as a reminder that Jesus told his disciples that “as you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me.”
Despite its message, the bronze statue, installed outside St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, has been called creepy. Some feel it is an insult to depict Jesus in such an indigent manner, while others worry that even a fake homeless man is bad for the town’s image.
In response to the controversy, David Buck, the church’s reverend, defended the statue in an interview with NPR, saying “this is a relatively affluent church, to be honest, and we need to be reminded ourselves that our faith expresses itself in active concern for the marginalized of society.”
The sculptor, Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz, is happy to hear of the town’s uneasy reaction to his work, telling NPR that the statue is “meant to challenge people.”
Schmalz’s homeless Jesus can also be found at the Jesuit School of Theology at the University of Toronto, and will soon be installed at the Catholic Charities of Chicago, and possibly at the Archdiocese of Washington, DC. St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York both turned down the work citing construction.
The work’s biggest fan is also the world’s most famous Catholic, Pope Francis himself. Schmalz presented a smaller model of the work to the pontiff in November. The artist described the Pope’s reaction to the artwork, in which he prayed over the statue, saying “it was like, that’s what he’s doing throughout the whole world: Pope Francis is reaching out to the marginalized.”
Pending approval from the city of Rome, a park bench on the avenue outside St. Peter’s Basilica will soon be graced by a statue of the homeless savior.
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