Column: Blinded by prosperity

Linda Tossey
Linda Tossey

Apparently it was disturbing. It made people feel uncomfortable, unsettled.

Some, according to an article in the Washington Times, called it, “creepy.”

There it was all the same. This “statue’; this art installation.

A thin huddled figure, hidden inside a robe on a park bench.

It was installed in Indianapolis and apparently has been installed in many other cities as well. Timothy Schmalz, a Canadian artist created the sculpture that looks like a down-and-out homeless person sleeping on bench. In Indianapolis a woman mistook the sculpture for a real man and called the paramedics.

Is the man in this sculpture sleeping? Is he clinging to life? Who is he? A closer look tells us exactly who he is. The giveaway? The feet. Punctured through, like they had been on a cross. The statue is of a “Homeless Jesus.”

Controversy surrounds it. Quoting again from the Times article, “Some say its $40,000 price tag is a waste of money and should be used instead for food and shelter. Others have suggested it could attract more homeless people to the area. Some churches, deeming the art sacrilegious, have turned down offers to install the piece on their grounds.”

According to the article, the statue forced the woman who called the paramedics to really see the homeless people around her for the first time.

The reasons for homelessness are many, like foreclosure, poverty, diminishing work opportunities, decline in public assistance, lack of affordable housing, mental illness and addiction; and many youth are no longer allowed home because they have identified as LGBTQ.

Yet, the question is, are there homeless around us, here in the Washington County area?

Apparently there are. Hundreds in this area, even though we often do not see them.

Perhaps it is because they’re not outside of the doors of our homes or churches or businesses. Perhaps it is because we are blinded by our own prosperity.

By prosperity, let us realize that if we are eating every day, if we have a place to live, if we have clothing and water and lights and heat, we are prosperous by the standards of the homeless.

While it’s hard to determine exact numbers of homeless in our area, there are some things we do know. Because, of the extremely low rate of affordable housing, the agencies working with the homeless find it enormously difficult to locate housing for homeless families. It is even more difficult to locate affordable housing for single people or youth. What we know is the homeless are hurting.

Why should any of this matter to us? Because for those who claim we are on the Christian path, the one we follow is Jesus. Jesus, who lived as a poor man, a humble man. Jesus, who taught and preached as a poor man, a humble man. Jesus, who reached out to others as a poor man, a humble man.

And there’s this fact: he had no permanent place to lay his head. Jesus relied solely on the goodness and kindness of others throughout his itinerant ministry.

So might Jesus of the gospels today look very much like the homeless Jesus on the bench? Probably so.

Blinded by good fortune of food and clothing and shelter, many of us may find it difficult to understand the lives of those who are impoverished. But the one we follow did.

Therefore, in this season of Lent, let us look around. Let us see those in need. Let us reach out. Let us be part of the goodness and kindness extended by agencies like Valley Outreach and the St. Croix Valley Resource Center, which work with families and individuals at risk every day.

After all, you never know who might decide to sleep on a bench near you.

Linda Tossey is senior pastor at People’s Congregational Church in Bayport.