Sunday, January 26, 2014
The statue is meant to sit on a city street, a park bench for its “pedestal.” The artist is working with the Vatican to find a permanent place in the city of Rome for “Jesus the Homeless.”
Schmalz was inspired to create the 2.5-meter bronze statue, after he saw a street person wrapped in a blanket in Toronto. It took him eight months and cost $25,000, funded by private donors, to complete the statue. “I just saw Jesus,” Schmalz said. He wanted other people to “just see Jesus” when they saw homeless people on streets or people marginalized for whatever reason, lost or wandering or begging. Jesus is shown in solidarity with the poor and the unhoused, those he told us to help. The statue figure on the bench is asleep and covered with a blanket, an icon of the cruel social disease of poverty. You can’t tell that the figure is Jesus except for the marks of crucifixion on his bare feet sticking out from under the blanket.
We see all kinds of images like this in the city. It is my policy to give money, say a little prayer in my heart, and then feel ashamed I can’t/don’t/won’t do more. I console myself with the thought that there are many programs and shelters yet I feel like Dickens’s Scrooge who refused to give money to help the poor, saying, “Are there no poor houses left?” Godde, how terrible I feel, but I move on.
What came to Schmalz’s mind was Jesus. What comes to my mind when I see the image of the Pope blessing the statue is the same: I just see Jesus—not so much in the statue as in Francis’ gesture.
Oh, I know the Pope isn’t Christ but I imagine that Jesus would’ve blessed such a statue, and if it were in the flesh he would have bent to kiss the sleeping figure, careful not to disturb precious sleep. This, in my mind, might have been just before he entered the Temple precincts and overturned the tables of the money-changers—not because the usual commerce at the site of the Temple was bad, but because they were charging usurious interest rates! How fitting a symbolic gesture to confront the terrifying have/have-not split in our own treacherously affluent society today.
The historical Jesus wasn’t poor or homeless. If he had been he would never have had the stamina to travel about preaching, teaching and healing. Still, he was crucified for his radical political and economic ideas.
Good Godde, imagine us all being absolutely equivalent in the eyes of Godde and each other and therefore commanded to make sure resources were evenly distributed, like the Eucharistic meal. We learned to share as little kids —and we forgot.
Theologian and author, Gustavo Gutierrez, interprets Jesus’ saying in the biblical story of the anointing woman in Mark's gospel, “You will always have the poor with you,” in a particular way. The biblical story tells of a woman who boldly comes into the group of men and anoints Jesus with costly ointment. The disciples raged at the woman’s waste. Self-righteously, and not without a little showing off for Jesus, they declared that the ointment could have been sold, the money given to the poor. Jesus shuts them up and declares that the poor will always be with us. He does not mean that they don’t count or that their plight isn’t urgent.
According to Gutierrez, Jesus meant that we should be more aware of the poor, take literally the idea that the poor are WITH us, literally. Yes, they are always with us but do we walk with them, accompany them and let them accompany us in daily life? Do we listen to their stories? Can we be in solidarity with suffering poverty?
“Even the poor need to do this with other poor—to walk and talk and listen and support. It’s a universal requirement,” Gutierrez said. To meet suffering in our midst is basic Christian practice.
The first thing the Pope did when he saw Schmalz’s statue was to pray, and then he blessed it. The artist called the experience “amazing.”
This pope preaches like Gutierrez, also Oscar Romero who said, “The way to be close to the God of Jesus Christ is to be close to the poor.”
I wonder what the Pope prayed in the moment before he blessed the statue? Would he have confessed his own inadequacies in living up to the gospel of love? I don’t know but I thought, Good Godde, I can’t do it. I’m afraid. I’m so sorry.