“We cannot change what we do not love; we cannot love what we do not know; and we cannot know what we are unwilling to invest with our time, our effort and our resources.” – Maurice Smith
What Would “Homeless Jesus” Need?
It first appeared in early 2013. “It” was a bronze sculpture on the campus of Regis College, University of Toronto, Canada. Known as “Homeless Jesus” or “Jesus the Homeless,” by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz, the sculpture depicts Jesus as a homeless person, sleeping on a park bench. Originally intended as an interpretation of Matthew 25, the sculpture was not universally well received (learn more about it here). That’s what happens when uncomfortable truth confronts our misconceptions. Uncomfortable truth notwithstanding, I want to use the image of “Homeless Jesus” to ask ourselves a very basic question: What does serving others actually look like? On a practical level, what does it mean to serve those Jesus described as “the least of these”?
So, let’s take a moment to consider some of the practical problems and needs that you and I take for granted, but which people living on the margins (poverty, homelessness, and a host of related issues) or people living with debilitating life challenges, aren’t able to access. Let’s frame the question a little differently: “What would ‘homeless Jesus’ need?”
In his excellent “Understanding Poverty“ workshop, my friend Joe Ader likes to challenge his audience with another uncomfortable truth. Like many of today’s homeless (or marginalized individuals living on the margin of poverty), Jesus was “too poor to die.” Following the crucifixion, Jesus’ body had to be claimed by friends and placed in a borrowed tomb (Mark 15:43-46). But there’s more. With Jesus, there always is. If Jesus was homeless today and passed away in a homeless shelter, would you or your church be willing to pay His funeral expenses (an all-too-frequent problem in the homeless community)? And, if Jesus was homeless today, He would probably need a cell phone. Would you buy one for Him? And, if He was homeless long enough, He would probably have a run-in with the law and need an attorney. Would you help Him find one? Would an attorney in your Church be willing to represent “homeless Jesus” in court (for common homeless issues such as loitering, trespassing, failure to appear, and more) and to do it “pro bono” (free)? And when “homeless Jesus” finally got out of jail and the homeless shelter where He was staying and got into His first (empty) apartment, how would you help Him furnish it. Would you give Him that used stuff you’ve been storing in the basement or garage (waiting for that yard sale, or to donate it to the local thrift store), or would you want to demonstrate your love, compassion and generosity by using that “benevolence” money you’ve been saving (and maybe the proceeds from that yard sale) to buy new dishes, new pots and pans, new towels and bed sheets, and . . . well, you get the picture. And would you take “homeless Jesus” to the local food bank, or would you take Him to the same supermarket you shop at and say, “O.K. let’s get what you need and things you actually like!”? I’d like to think that’s what you and I would do, rather than saying, “Well, after all, He’s homeless. He should be thankful for whatever He gets. What He really needs is ‘an attitude of gratitude.'”
You see, “homeless Jesus” needs basically everything you and I take for granted. And if our response is, “Yes, but Jesus isn’t homeless or in need,” then we’re missing the whole message and spirit of Matthew 25:31-46. To fully understand the message and spirit of Jesus’ words here, we need to see Jesus in the faces of unlikely people: in the face of a panhandler on a downtown street corner; in the face of the homeless and the hungry; in the face of the person fleeing domestic violence; in the face of the young girl fleeing human/sex trafficking; in the face of the ex-felon seeking a job. Gazing into the faces of “the least of these” is an appropriate moment to ask ourselves, “Would I treat Jesus the same way I’m about to treat this person?” Our journey into genuine discipleship and serving others is truly underway when we can answer that question . . . and act accordingly.
Real People, Real Needs
So, what are the real needs of real people working their way out of poverty, homelessness, abuse, sex-trafficking, drugs and other life-issues? Below is a list of actual needs (broken into broad categories) posted during one (1) month of 2018 on the list-serve of the Spokane Homeless Coalition by case managers as they worked to help people who came to their agencies for assistance (read some of the actual postings here). Are you, your church, your small group or your community service organization ready to re-orient your outreach and service activities to embrace “homeless Jesus” on terms which may be quite different than what you expected. For those who have never seen it before (an increasing number of people in our Postmodern culture), the Kingdom of God may look like a compassionate stranger who provides a new bed for their kids in their new apartment, groceries that didn’t come from a food bank, new clothes that didn’t come from a thrift store, or a brand new set of pots, pans and dishes that hadn’t been previously used by someone else.
So, is your Church, “Rooted” group, Bible study, small group, or community service group ready to roll up your sleeves and sow the seed of the Kingdom into the fertile soil of people and their lives, and to do it without any pre-defined expectations of immediate return or results? Is so, below are a few ideas to get you started.
These needs, condensed from requests for help shared among case managers in the Spokane Homeless Coalition, represent needs which don’t fall into a convenient category:
1. Funeral Expenses (usually cremation, because it’s the cheapest option)
2. Inexpensive cell phone
3. Couples Counseling for a homeless couple with issues
4. Legal Assistance (for things ranging from protection orders, to child custody, to CPS hearings, to eviction notices)
5. Food resources for a mother supplying food during visitation with her children
6. A single mom needing a double stroller
7. Paying a fee to renew driver’s license
Two of the biggest issues in the marginalized/homeless community are 1) Jobs, and 2) Housing. Are you an employer who can offer a job, or a landlord who could offer affordable housing to a person or family in need?
Jobs, jobs, jobs (particularly for people with a felony on their record)
Housing (And Home Repair)
Low-income housing is one of the biggest challenges facing people living on the margins. Question: If you made $1,000/month, could you find an apartment in Spokane for only $350/month? Then try finding one if you have an old felony on your record. Are you a landlord who could offer affordable housing and make a difference for an individual or family in need?
1. An ADA equipped Rental Unit
2. Rental Move-In Deposits
3. Housing for people with a felony
4. Housing for people with a voucher
5. Utility shut off help
6. Eviction Prevention
7. Moving Help
8. Yard Work
9. Snow Removal
10. A wheelchair ramp
There simply are things which, for one reason or another, are NOT covered by someone’s insurance and become “out of pocket” expenses for people with no pockets!
1. A Light-weight wheelchair
2. A Hospital Bed
3. Eye Care (Optometrist & prescription glasses)
4. Dental Care/Dentures
5. Low-cost medical supplies not covered by insurance
1. Furniture (not that broken yard-sale stuff in your basement!)
2. A washer & dryer
3. Beds & bedding
4. Dishes & dinnerware
5. A toaster
6. A microwave
7. Pots, pans, cooking utensils
8. Toiletries, cleaning supplies
9. A dresser
O.K. try making all your appointments without 1) a working car, 2) friends to give you a ride, 3) money for the bus. Yep, “homeless Jesus” is going to need a bus pass. Are you going to buy one for Him?
1. Bus Passes
2. Car Repair
3. Gas Voucher
4. Power wheelchair lift for the back of a vehicle
5. A bus ticket home