He’s right in front of us. All the time. There’s no denying it. We see him everywhere and in everything.
If – and it is a big if – we choose to see him. And how often we choose quite the opposite… We either willingly, or unwillingly look away.
That’s the Rev. David Buck, Rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, in Davidson, North Carolina. Father Buck and his parish community, through a donation, installed a replica of the controversial “Homeless Jesus” statue originally created by sculptor Tim Schmaltz. In full disclosure, I know David Buck and have been to St. Alban’s; I was present when he and a dear friend of mine were married a few years back.
Today’s Gospel is the one that inspired the statue, Matthew 25. This famous chapter can be recited by many of us.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.
Of course that is followed by people asking Jesus when did they ever see him hungry, naked, or anything else. Did we see you? Where? When? It is clearly a choice to not simply see, but to notice Jesus in everyone.
Everyone? Well, yes – everyone. I have some verses I might need to add for my own study and transformation. Jesus would say, “For I was an annoying jerk, and you patiently listened to me, angry and bitter, and you were kind to me, cold and indifferent and you were warm and welcoming to me, dismissive and you treated me with respect, an enemy and you extended goodwill to me.”
At which point I would have to skulk away into the shadows, because pretty much I am not doing any of those things. Which of course, makes my do-good behavior around the hungry and homeless, perhaps a little hollow. And I doubt I would have the nerve to say, “Did we see you Jesus? Where? When? You were never a rude, cold, indifferent jerk!” Now we know that Jesus would not be any of those things, but Ithe deeper message means that Christ is in all. And all means – well, all.
Which brings me back to Homeless Jesus. Not everyone in the Davidson, NC community is thrilled with his appearance, sleeping on the bench in front of St. Alban’s. That is too bad, but not a surprise. Watch the video at this link, to get a sense of community reaction. (I tried to embed it, but no luck!)
Perhaps the takeaway on all of this is to say that Lent is a time to sharpen our focus, which we hope will happen when we “give up” some of those things that distract us. And by sharpening that focus, we can grow more present and attentive. As a result we might find Jesus in a whole lot of unexpected places. When we do, let us try to care for him, present in all people, with the same merciful, loving compassion that Jesusshows to us. All of us. Always.
If we but turn to Him.