By Barb Arland-Fye
Walking to downtown Davenport on Harrison Street during lunch hour, I crossed paths with a man in well-worn jeans and jacket who swayed slightly as he trudged uphill on feet encased in battered shoes.
Absorbed in my prayers I sensed God redirect my attention to the man just a few yards ahead of me. “Is this Jesus?” I asked myself. The man lowered his head in avoidance as he approached me. If shame were visible, that’s the image this man bore. My heart ached for him, but I said nothing and regretted my silence after we passed each other. What should I have said to the man to brighten his day? I wondered. Why couldn’t I have simply said “hello.” What was I afraid of?
Two days later I dug out of my backpack “The Little Black Book” of Lenten meditations for 2015 which has gone neglected for longer than I care to admit. The meditation for March 14 spoke directly to me: “Jesus the Homeless.”
It told the story of Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz who had been deeply moved to see a homeless person wrapped up so tightly in a sleeping bag that the artist couldn’t tell if the individual was male or female.
“This is Jesus was Schmalz’ first reaction. The Catholic artist decided to create a bronze sculpture of the tired Jesus, wrapped in a blanket except for his feet” (The Little Black Book, Six-minute meditations on the Passion according to Luke, 2015).
Schmalz’ intention, according to Catholic News Service, was to force viewers to take a second look and to finally realize this is a sculpture of Jesus.
The artist hoped to place the statue in every major city, but he faced rejection at first. St. Michael’s Cathedral in his home diocese of Toronto declined the statue and so did St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
Pope Francis, a huge champion of the poor and marginalized, blessed the statute at one of his weekly general audiences and called it “a beautiful piece of art,” according to the Lenten meditation. Several of the Jesus the Homeless statues now are on display in Rome and Chicago and other locations.
We published a photo of the Jesus the Homeless statue in The Catholic Messenger around the time Catholic News Service posted it in 2013. I hadn’t thought about it until reading the meditation and reflecting on my walk two days earlier.
Now I’m convinced I saw Jesus, not just in the man swaying ever so slightly and with his eyes penetrating the sidewalk. Jesus appeared in all of the other people who crossed my path that day during the walk and in the chancery and at soup supper in my parish that night.
My awareness, however, required a fresh awakening that God provided on one of the first warm days of the year in the midst of a Lenten season ripe with promise. The next time I see Jesus, the very least I can do is offer a smile and a greeting — even if Jesus’ eyes are penetrating the sidewalk.