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Last year a small church in North Carolina placed a statue of Jesus out in front of their building. The only problem was that it portrayed Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench. And while the installation has spurred a variety of reactions from a lot of different groups, I think it highlights one of the central aspects of what Christ’s incarnation is really about.
Let me explain…
Over the centuries, artists have depicted Jesus in a variety of ways. Early Christians painted him as a humble shepherd leading his flock, while later generations enthroned Christ in a position of power on the clouds as transcendent Lord and Savior over all creation—having the whole world in his hands. Now, modern artists have painted our Lord with more ethnically accurate features based on digital DNA recreation. All of these expressions of Christ are part of a complex mosaic that reflects our human perception of who God is.
More often than not, we like to cast Jesus based on our own experiences. We shape him to reflect certain aspects of change that we would like to see in our community. Prophet, best friend, healing physician – he was all of these things and much more. Here, the artist has created the image of a homeless Jesus to remind us of Christ’s words to his Disciples:
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
What I find so interesting about this statue is how it does turn our image of Christ upside down. We remember him as the King of Kings, the Son of God who performed miracles and dazzled the learned religious leaders of his time. But we also need to remember that he was born in a humble stable, worked with his father in his family’s carpenter shop and probably helped his mother make breakfast. He dwelt among us, suffered with us, and I’m sure on at least one occasion, was forced to sleep under a tree just like any common vagrant. But that truth isn’t anything we should shy away from. Instead, like this statue, it serves as a way of reminding us that Christ came among us to bring forgiveness and redemption to all – from the greatest leader to the very “least of these.”
I’m Joseph Tkach, Speaking of LIFE.