Why This Sculpture of Jesus as A Homeless Man Caused A Major Stir In A Wealthy Community

Davidson, North Carolina is an affluent neighborhood where things tend to stay pretty quiet. Recently, however, one seemingly innocuous sculpture sparked quite the controversy in Davidson.

The sculpture that started it all is called Jesus the Homeless. It depicts jesus as a homeless man wrapped in a blanket, laying on a park bench. The blanket obscures his face and hands, so the only thing that gives him away are the wounds on his feet from the crucifixion.

The wounds which identify the homeless man as Jesus

The reactions were very polarized: some people loved it, but some people hated it too. One woman actually even called the cops the first time she drove by the sculpture, thinking it was a real vagrant laying on the bench.

Others have written letters saying that it, “creeps them out”, and some people believe that it is a disrespectful or even insulting depiction of the Messiah.

The statue was purchased upon the orders of Rev. David Buck, a 65-year-old “Baptist-turned-Episcopalian” reverend at St. Alban’s Episcopal church in Davidson. He bought it as a memorial to one of his parishioners who had loved public art and doesn’t seem to be too bothered by the controversy it’s causing:

“It gives authenticity to our church … 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.”

Rev. David Buck sits with the sculpture in front of his church (Photo: John Burnett/NPR)
Rev. David Buck sits with the sculpture in front of his church (Photo: John Burnett/NPR)

Buck also points out that the sculpture was intended to be a visual depiction of the passage, “As you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me,” from the Book of Matthew.

The sculpture is the work of a devout Catholic from Canada named Timothy Schmalz. Schmalz is aware that his work is provocative, saying,

“That’s essentially what the sculpture is there to do … It’s meant to challenge people.”

Sculptor Timothy Schmalz with his art piece

Many people really love the piece as well though. The Catholic Charities of Chicago and the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. are both interested in purchasing replicas of the statue. But Schmalz’s most high-profile installation of Jesus the Homeless will be on a park bench alongside the “Via della Conciliazione”, the road which leads to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

Schmalz got to hand-deliver a miniature version of the sculpture to the Pope himself last November. Here he is describing that experience:

“He walked over to the sculpture, and it was just chilling because he touched the knee of the Jesus the Homeless sculpture, and closed his eyes and prayed … It was like, that’s what he’s doing throughout the whole world: Pope Francis is reaching out to the marginalized.”

Pope Francis blessing the miniature sculpture Schmalz delivered to him last November (Photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)

For what it’s worth, Reverend Buck says the people of Davidson have warmed up to the sculpture, and that its fans outnumber its critics now. Also, it’s become common for people to sit on the bench, rest their hands on the feet of the sculpture and pray.

Read the full story from NPR here.

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