Homeless Jesus

On today’s lunchtime outing I happened upon a sculpture unlike any other public artwork in the city. It is meant to merge with the environment, so it’s not on a pedestal or made with granite. The seven-foot-long sculpture depicts a person shrouded in a blanket and lying on a park bench. The figure is difficult to see because of being covered by the blanket, but upon closer inspection is identifiable by the crucifixion wounds on his feet sticking out from under the blanket. The sculpture, located outside Catholic Charities Headquarters at 924 G Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, depicts Christianity’s central figure, and is entitled Homeless Jesus.

The work was created by Canadian sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz, who sculpts in the small town of St. Jacobs, outside Toronto. He said the idea to sculpt Jesus as a homeless person came to him while he was walking the streets of Toronto, and witnessed a man or a woman, he wasn’t sure which, covered and on the street.  He was both moved and shocked, and considered that he had just witnessed Jesus.  After creating the piece, which he sees as a visual translation of how Jesus would want us to see him, he initially couldn’t find anyone who wanted it.  So he said at the time, “Jesus has no home, how ironic.”

He estimates that he has made more than thirty of the sculptures, which he sells for about $32,000 apiece. The first was installed at Regis College, University of Toronto, in early 2013.  Since then, the statues have popped up on private property in cities across the country, including Denver, Phoenix and Chicago. The statues are usually financed by an anonymous private donor, as was the case for the sculpture here in D.C., which was subsequently blessed by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, to commemorate Ash Wednesday in 2015.

I like a statement the artist made at the time the D.C. sculpture was installed. He said, “Hopefully, people think it’s a real homeless person. I hope that when people encounter the sculpture, it will remind people of the gift that Christianity has given civilization: the idea that all humanity is sacred.” But even more, I particularly like the response of the artist to one of the criticisms he received about the work, which has received mixed reviews.  Someone said to him, “Oh, great, now when I see a homeless person, I’ll think of this sculpture.”  To which the artist responded, “That’s the best compliment I could get.”

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

(The statue makes me think of the verse in The Bible which can be found at Matthew 25:40. “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”)

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