Homeless Jesus (2018)

By St Nicholas’ Church, Liverpool, is a rough sleeper on a bench. From afar, one resolves to give it a wide berth, lest the sleeper’s arms or smell reach a little too far. Closer inspection reveals it is made of bronze, and the sleeper’s feet bear nail prints, identifying the subject as Jesus Himself. Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz commented:

“Hopefully when a homeless human walks by, it will be an embrace. Christianity is hardcore.”

The embrace being, presumably, metaphorical, as this figure won't embrace anyone. Yet we Christians should be concerned about those without homes. Although local authorities must house homeless people within 28 days, someone suffering long-term homelessness may have other ‘issues’ such as addictions which prevent this. Furthermore, charities and churches which wish to help homeless folk ‘over the festive period’ are presumably suggesting that to be on a park bench in January is somehow more acceptable. Inviting strangers into one’s house is a risky business, especially if one is vulnerable or there are children present. Yet we are called to help those in need. As I write this, I prepare to teach about Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats, with its uncompromising message of failing to help strangers in Matthew 25: 31-46:

I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

Whereas evangelicals were at the forefront of social care and reform in the nineteenth-century, it is now theological liberals who seem to lead in this area. This is partly because they have little else to talk about; unable to offer food for the soul they focus on the body. Yet compassion for others’ needs and wants is the clear hallmark of saving faith. Turning one’s home into a shelter for rough sleepers may not be wise, and local authorities now provide the bulk of the support available. Yet expect to be given opportunities to help others; sharing the gospel by word and action is the very reason we are still on the earth.