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January 27, 2017 column

Christ of the Homeless
Rev. Yme Woensdregt

There are a couple of pieces of art which have spoken to me in powerful ways.
The first is a woodcut by Fritz Eichenberg, a German–American illustrator who lived from 1901–1991. He worked primarily as an engraver, and his best–known works were concerned with religion, social justice and nonviolence. He was a close friend with Dorothy Day who co–founded the Catholic Worker movement in the USA in the late 1930’s.
His work “Christ of the Homeless” shows Christ huddling with an elderly homeless couple underneath a sign which evokes the cross.
Christ of the Homeless was created in 1982. It is a powerful evocation of Jesus, who identified himself with “the least of these my brothers and sisters” in Matthew 25.
It points us to one of the central concerns of the gospel, which is that God is not to be found among the powerful and well–heeled, but rather that God chooses to be among those whom society discounts. This is the great surprise of the gospel, the upside–down wisdom of God.
It reminds us once again that the gospel puts the lie to the so–called “prosperity gospel” which proclaims that our wealth and position in society are God’s blessings for living faithfully.
The second work of art is the statue “Homeless Jesus” created by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz. At first glance, it looks like an ordinary homeless person sleeping on a park bench. As you look more closely, you notice the holes in his feet.
Originally crafted in 2013, the statue was rejected by two Roman Catholic cathedrals. It was finally placed at the University of Toronto’s Regis College. Then, last year, a replica was also installed inside the Vatican, at the entrance of the Office of Papal Charities. Other replicas have been installed in cities across North America and Europe. It has become one of the most talked–about sculptures of recent years.
For Christians, the homeless are not just statistics. Their plight is our plight. The image of the Homeless Jesus reminds us of Christ’s demand that we be in solidarity with those who need our compassion. This sculpture is not just a normal statue; it was not created to be looked at and admired. It is an image which should draw the viewer’s glance to the many park benches, doorways and sheltered corners where Jesus lays homeless every day and every night.
I bring these two works of art up at this time because homelessness has reached a crisis in our country, and in our city and region.
A recent report in this newspaper mentioned a fundraising effort sponsored locally by the Homeless Outreach & Prevention Program to be held on February 25. They are hosting a Coldest Night of the Year walk. You can participate by walking 2 km, 5 km or 10 km. They have set an ambitious goal of $50,000 to support and serve “the hungry, homeless and hurting across Canada.”
Registration opens at 4 pm on February 25 outside Mt. Baker Secondary School. The finish is at the Community Connections building (209A – 16th Ave N). A warm light meal will be served to all walkers and volunteers.
You can find much more information at https://canada.cnoy.org/location/cranbrook.
I know several churches who are organizing a team. Here is something we can all do together, and as we do it for the least of these our brothers and sisters, we are doing it for the Christ who calls us to follow.