For a couple of years it was as sculpture that no one wanted. It was turned down by two prominent Catholic churches. Earlier this year Regis College was offered the sculpture and accepted it where it now on display in front of their building at Wellesley and Queen’s Park in Toronto. This Jesuit community takes seriously their commitment to the poor. And I suppose it was just a matter of time until the first Jesuit Pope got wind of this wok by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz. An image and comments from the artist are on the front page of the newsletter. The sculpture Jesus the Homeless is a visual representation of the Gospel Matthew 25:
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
The sculpture shows Jesus as one of the least. This work encourages the viewer to acknowledge the sameness of Jesus and all the marginalized in our world by showing Him as a homeless person sleeping on a park bench. All distinguishing features of specific identity are obscured through the figure being covered by the blanket, making Him identifiable only by the Crucifixion wound marks on his feet.
The effect of this representation is similar to theater. The viewer approaches the work – initially thinking it is a real homeless person – and then realizes it is a sculpture of a marginalized person. It is then only through a closer inspection of the exposed feet that the viewer realizes it is indeed a sculpture of the Son of Man. This is the surprise or conversion part of the art work, teaching us that when we see marginalized people around us, we should see Jesus.
While in downtown Toronto, December, 2011, I noticed a homeless man was wrapped in a blanket. Initially when I saw him, I thought “that’s Jesus”. In the weeks after this experience, I felt the urgent need to have other people feel what I felt that day.
In November 2013, I travelled to Rome to present the original small maquette of the work to Pope Francis.
On my first night in Rome, directly outside my hotel window was a homeless man trying to sleep in the rain. The homeless man looked identical to my sculpture but for a small umbrella perched over his head. All night long, I was awake and he was as well (I could see the periodic light of his cigarette); I understood this as a spiritual sign from God, for what are the chances of a homeless man sleeping outside my window the night before I present Jesus the Homeless to Pope Francis? The next day, I saw many homeless people around Rome and decided that my ‘sign’ was all too common an occurrence and not at all miraculous. In fact, there were dozens of homeless sleeping every night around the centre of Rome that resembled the figure in my sculpture. Upon further reflection, however, I finally revisited my original conclusion: what I was seeing everywhere around me was most certainly a sign by God that I was in the right time and place with the message delivered by this piece.
The next day, Pope Francis received the sculpture, prayed in front of it, and blessed it. Afterwards he told me he thought the Homeless Jesus sculpture is “beautiful”.
By Timothy Schmalz