Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Homeless Jesus finds a place. . .

While waiting for someone, I looked over the mail stack and opened up the pages of the January issue of The Lutheran.  On page 9 I found a large photo and a small story on fact that Ascension Lutheran Church in Paradise Valley, AZ, became the permanent home of a life-size bronze sculpture title "Homeless Jesus".

As far as I can tell from the picture, there is a figure on a park bench, lying down, covered up with a fabric wrap or blanket of some kind.  In fact there is little to suggest that it is Jesus under the wrap.  Maybe that is the intention -- calling on the Christian to see Christ in the homeless and those in need.  I am not sure.  It seems logical but little in art is logical.

Its purpose is to elicit "compassion, reflection, and unease among the onlookers."  There are currently four other statues in other cities.  According to the brief story, the statue has been the occasion of some controversy.  It has not bothered me nor has it inspired me -- my limited perspective is one more of confusion.

Art both conveys an image as well as helping to impress an image upon the one who views it.  I have no doubt that homelessness is a serious and compelling problem.  I have no doubt that thousands of Lutheran congregations are involved in efforts to address the issue of homelessness and, indeed, all those in need.  I certainly would never wish to diminish or discourage such efforts.  Yet, I am confused by this kind of art adopted by churches as signature works to give form to the Gospel.  It is socially relevant and visually encapsulates the need but does it adequately frame and communicate the Gospel?  It seems that we are so often tempted to define the Gospel for the faithful and the world when, in reality, God has defined the Gospel for the faithful and for the world.  That definition is Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  Our Lord defined this Gospel over and over again -- right up to the moment of His ascension -- telling how the Scriptures testify of Him and teach that the Son of Man must suffer, die, and rise again and that forgiveness of sins be proclaimed in His name to the end of the world and the end of the ages.

I certainly do not mean to diminish the intentions of the sculptor or the parish hosting it but I would respectfully suggest that there are more profound images of the Gospel, more faithful to what we believe, confess, and proclaim, than an unnamed figure asleep on a park bench.  Maybe it is just me.  If so, tell me.  But I find myself confused by this witness and somewhat saddened that this is the definition of the Gospel that is most prominent for any Lutheran parish. 

Yes, I know, the author is a devout Roman Catholic and a smaller version of his statue was given to and blessed by Pope Francis.  The 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.  Maybe it is just not my cup of tea, as they say.  In any case, Pope's blessing or not, it is not a image I think communicates the Gospel nearly as well as a crucifix.


Unknown said...

Pastor Peters:
Why do you think this Jesus the Homeless is the only display that the church has; or that it is the most prominent display?

Erik Maldre said...

Closer inspection reveals this is a clear representation of Jesus. Look at the holes in his feet.