“No place to lay his head”: Jesus the Homeless statue rejected

This statue called Jesus the Homeless was rejected by two prominent churches before finding a home outside Regis College, a Jesuit school of theology with an emphasis on social justice, at the University of Toronto.

Statue of “Jesus the Homeless”

The rejection by churches of “Jesus the Homeless” is what I find we are up against as we try to spread a message on how economic justice is at the core of the Gospel message.  People are really threatened by an image of “Jesus the Homeless” because it rips away the pretense that Christianity is about rewarding the wealthy.

Who is on that bench, under that blanket, shivering in the cold? God-with-us.  It shakes you to your core if you let it.

The heart of the Kingdom of God program of Jesus is community organizing against Roman taxation, peasant indebtedness, loss of land, urban poverty, and the abuse of religion to justify that.

Jesus, and his disciples, lived the alternative as revelation. That is why, as Jesus is journeying toward Jerusalem, he talks to them about the “Human One” (Oxford Inclusive Translation) having “nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58).  It’s the revelation of how this is God’s program, not just a human program he is about.

But the ownership crowd is not going down without a fight. In an amazing tweet-back, I was informed that “Jesus owned two homes. One in Nazareth and one in Capernaum. Plus a temple in Jerusalem.”  Yes, I’m sure. That’s probably why Jesus cleaned the Temple, he “owned it.”  You have to work hard to misread the life and teachings of Jesus that way.

But I’m finding there is a longing, in our local churches, to just tell the Gospel truth about this economy, and what it is doing to community, to education, to retirement, to actually being able to have enough to eat and a safe, warm place to lay your head.  There are people sitting in our pews, right now, who are food insecure, who are drowning in debt, who aren’t sure how they will make the mortgage payment, who are facing a retirement in poverty.

Reality.  It’s the best interpreter of scripture.  But incredible art helps a lot. That’s why it’s so often rejected, as was the very Jesus it depicts.


About Susan Thistlethwaite

I am President Emerita and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary; I write for the public here and in local papers. I am interested in what I call "public theology," or how deeper meaning is made and contested in the public square.
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5 Responses to “No place to lay his head”: Jesus the Homeless statue rejected

  1. Susan, excellent! I thoroughly appreciate your well-written, inspiring column on the statue “Jesus, the Homeless,” which was just sent to me from a friend who read my article. I too addressed the plight of the homeless that was posted on Jan. 12, 2013 in the OC Registry newspaper in Costa Mesa, California. It can be viewed online and is entitled: “Making Christmas Goodwill Last All Year.”

    I too glory in a “public theology” of orthopraxis (“right actions”); in fact, I do as much as I delight in a theology of orthodoxy (“right beliefs”). As you know, in Matthew 25 when King Jesus addresses the two types of humanity on Judgment Day (the sheep and the goats), His praise of the Humanity of Sheep is certainly not for their great efforts to promote the spiritual gospel. He surprisingly commends them for a rather hearty social gospel. As you know, a few of His most pressing social concerns there were whether His faithful followers were solving the problems of hunger, thirst, and homelessness toward those He labeled as “the least of My brethren” (v. 40). This is indeed where the theological rubber meets the practical road (or your call for a more robust “public theology”). This too might be called a “humanitarian theology” which sees the humanity in every soul. At times we all suffer from spiritual blindness so that we cannot see it in others, particularly those outcasts of society (“the least of [Christ’s] brethren”) whose repulsive addiction, mental illness, or lack of hygiene veil their humanity before us. We avoid them like the plague because we can’t see their humanness. However, a good piece of art or a well-written article can help remove the scales from our eyes. Thanks!

    Your article too certainly captures the essence of a humanitarian theology for Christians and non-Christians alike. Sadly, the latter seem to be getting it more than the former who seem intent in building Christian ghettos (being a “light” unto themselves, cf., Matt. 5:14-16) and reaching “the greatest of King Jesus’ brethren,” which in their minds is the Christian affluent with all the money, power, smarts, and fame. Yet Pastor Warren is somewhat succeeding in correcting this error in his efforts in the Third World, yet some say his mega-church is lacking in membership of that “least” class to whom Jesus extends His very affection and identity. Thanks for giving Jesus and the homeless a voice, Pastor De Soto

  2. gaustin00 says:

    Susan, I was so touched by this blog post that I chose to include your picture and some thoughts about this statue. You can read my post here: https://www.facebook.com/bible.org and look for Apr 17th: Mark 15 “The Characters of the Crucifixion”
    I noted at the bottom “Picture courtesy of Susan Thistlewaite’s blog post “No Place to lay his head”: Jesus the Homeless Statue rejected.””
    Thanks Susan for this noteworthy event although so very sad.

  3. Hepburn3 says:

    University of Toronto is one of my alma maters.
    I will most certainly have to go down to the campus and see this beautiful statue.
    Thanks so much for you article Ms. Thistlethwaite it was a lovely and though provoking read.

  4. Congratulations to Regis College at the University of Toronto for “getting” the message and giving Jesus a place to lay His head! God bless you!

    Why not tell us how YOU feel about this issue? As always, your questions and comments are welcome!
    Posted by:
    JB Richards, Author

    To learn more about the “Yeshua and Miri Novel Series” and the upcoming publication of “Miriamne the Magdala”, the first book in this series, please click on the above link to my Author’s Page.

  5. Nancy Nyberg says:

    I am very moved by this. I suppose I have more friends than most who feel threatened by anything suggesting a preference for the poor, but surely we should observe such a preference in our faith, words, works, investments, and votes.

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