This 'Homeless Jesus' statue has found a home after similar works were rejected from cathedrals in New York and Canada, but not all are welcoming it with open arms. The moving work by Timothy P. Schmalz has provoked diverse responses since being installed at St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Davidson, N.C.
Rev. Doctor David E. Buck, the church rector, sees it as an evocative combination of beauty, art, and religion. "It's Jesus representing the most marginalized of society," he told NBC Charlotte. "We're reminded of what our ultimate calling is as Christians, as people of faith, to do what we can individually and systematically to eliminate homelessness. Part of a faith commitment is to care or the needy."
However, others think it is in poor taste. Cindy Castano Swannack called the police the first time she drove by the realistic bronze statue, explaining to NBC Charlotte, "I was concerned for the safety of the neighborhood." She protested, "Jesus is not a vagrant, Jesus is not a helpless person who needs our help."
A plaque next to the sculpture reveals that it is displayed in memory of Kate MacIntyre, who died from cancer in 2007. The sculpture was inspired by the verse Matthew 25:40, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."
Schmalz's website explains, "Inspired by Matthew: 25, this sculpture is a representation that suggests Christ is with the most marginalized in our society. The Christ figure is shrouded in a blanket the only indication that it is Jesus is the visible wounds on the feet. The life-size version of the work has enough room that someone is able to sit on the bench."
Pope Francis was moved by the work when Schmalz presented it to him at the Vatican, praying over it and blessing it. The pope has made addressing the plight of the poor and needy a hallmark of his papacy.
Church member Chuck Dillman said, "if you've been through what I've been through," telling NBC Charlotte that it brought him closer to God. Buck added, "I can't understand why anyone wouldn't want this."
Shmalz told The Catholic Register that the sculpture was inspired, in part, by a homeless man that he saw lying on the ground before Christmas in 2011. He recounted that poignant moment during a previous interview with The Huffington Post, commenting, "My instinctive thought was, that is Jesus Christ. I just saw Jesus."