Theresa Thomas
Everyday Catholic
November 8, 2017 // Perspective

A challenge in Vancouver

Theresa Thomas
Everyday Catholic

Outside Holy Rosary Cathedral in Vancouver, Canada, is an unusual statue. It sits just outside the entrance to the church. If you are walking into the church, you approach it from the side and so it looks like a real person lying on a bench. As you approach you see what appears to be a homeless man. You see a cloak, legs and so on. Then you see the feet. Crucified.

It is a very powerful statue of him.

This statue is referred to as “Homeless Jesus.” It is controversial. Jarring. Compassion-evoking. Angering. Obtrusive. Cold. Tender. It really makes you think.

I have to admit: I have been very conflicted about the homeless problem. I’ve seen what appear to be able-bodied young men standing on the corners in our city, in what appear to be nice clothes, holding signs asking for food and money.

I doubt.

I doubt, because they look strong and well. A block down that same street, I’ve seen “Help Wanted” signs in windows of food establishments. Why don’t the people standing on the corner apply for work there? I personally know someone who offered a person in such a situation a job and that beggar didn’t show up for work. There are jobs in this city. Why don’t they take them?

I doubt, because the university in our town subsidizes a huge, some say extravagant, homeless shelter that causes people to travel from states away to stay there. It is bringing homeless people in. Isn’t that just contributing to the problem?

I doubt. Did the people standing on corners try? Are they milking the system? Isn’t there anything they can do?

And yet, how could I possibly know? How could I know the intricacies of their lives and struggles? In a different set of circumstances, could it be me? If my family were different, if I had a streak of illness alone, if I left an abusive situation but had nowhere to go, might it be me who was dependent on the goodness of others? I wonder.

And so, I have to ask — while, of course, we all must be prudent with limited family resources and wise in making decisions — should our default mode be to question a homeless person harshly in our hearts? Should we judge the situation of each and every person we see? Should we speculate? Surmise? Or should we leave it to the Lord?

I think I would rather err on the side of mercy (Mt 25:40).

The statue outside Holy Rosary Cathedral in Vancouver, apparently one of many all over the world by the same artist, Timothy Schmalz, brings the issue of homelessness to the forefront. According to various news articles, not all cities have welcomed the statue. Some say it is disrespectful to depict Christ as a vagrant, and they call the sculpture “creepy.” It is raw, for sure, but is the statue creepy? Or is the coldness of man’s heart in 2017 that is really creepy?

I wonder.

I think it is good to look at this statue, and those like it, and see our Savior in the least of our brothers. I think when we see a statue like this, or a person standing on a corner, we should think about the mentally ill, who look physically healthy but have no place to go; or about those who are honestly down on their luck. We should even think about and consider those whose intent is to deceive. Aren’t they the worst off of all, and in need of the most mercy?

And speaking of worse off, are we worse off for any compassion we show, even if we are wrong now and again and tricked into giving more than someone really deserves? What do they deserve? What do we, really?

This “Homeless Jesus” in Vancouver was an unexpected challenge for me. It made me contemplate Matthew 7:1-5 in a deeper way, and strive to perfect my intentions and heart. I hope my description of it and thoughts put forth here will also help you think about those less fortunate than us. Then, together, with intent, we can bring more warmth and compassion, more Christ, to the world.

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