A figure lying on a street bench, wrapped in a blanket which covers the head and face, but with bare feet showing. It might seem an unusual subject for a sculpture. Look closely, and notice the feet bear the marks of having been pierced by nails. This homeless man lying on a bench is Jesus.
The original sculpture was created by the Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz. The piece known as Homeless Jesus has replicas located in prominent urban locations, around the world. Through his art he purposefully illustrates the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40, "Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are my family, you did it to me";. Jesus tells his followers they are caring for Him when they tend to the needs of those who are sick, poor, naked, hungry, thirsty, imprisoned and strangers. The sculpture invites us to reflect on what that means. It asks us to take this message literally and to attend to the dignity of the poor, marginalised and excluded in our town. It is a bold public statement about social convictions.
Kilmarnock local sculptor and artist George Duff has donated his interpretation: ‘Homeless Jesus In Kilmarnock’
The sculpture presents symbols with universal meanings: a street bench, a body trying to stay warm, wrapped in a blanket communicating physical vulnerability in a public space. When combined, they become an icon of homelessness.
The reasons for homelessness are complex and numerous. There are several charitable groups that do amazing work in Kilmarnock. EACHa (Each Person Matters), an ecumenical charity exemplifies what it means to be inspired by faith and compassion to help the people who fall through the cracks of service provision. Charities cannot solve the homelessness crisis. It is not their job to find the solutions to end abject poverty or loss of lives, the predicaments facing the most vulnerable men and women in our society. Voluntary groups and charities can only do so much. We all know real and lasting solutions can be achieved with renewed ambition and determination, allied to accountability and appropriate budgeting. The real question is whether there is the will and heart to do it.
There is space at the end of the bench to stop and sit for a while... to keep Jesus company perhaps, to pray, to express concern at the existence of such widespread homelessness in a land of plenty. Whether people do this or simply walk on by, Homeless Jesus in Kilmarnock will convey its intended message with challenge and dignity.