“It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”—Irish proverb
As the pandemic bears down on communities and threatens the security of a meal or a place to sleep for many, we are reminded of Jesus and his commitment to help the underserved as he faced his own hardships. Jesus, whose life began as a homeless baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, repeatedly showed his concern for homeless people by listening to their voices, healing their wounds and providing solace. Throughout the years his teachings of love and compassion have been represented in many ways.
Greeting people flocking to the boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ, this summer will be a seven-foot bronze sculpture depicting a homeless man sleeping on a park bench. Like many homeless, his face and hands are obscured, his head and much of his body shrouded under a blanket. However, deep gashes on his feet reveal his identity, and a small spot at one end of the bench invites others to sit next to Jesus.
“We want to share the Gospel in a different way and do so outside the building,” said Kate Aaronson, who has been the pastor at North Wildwood UMC for the past year.
The church commissioned Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz to create a replica of his sculpture named “Homeless Jesus.” The sculpture, which is now located in about 100 places throughout the world including in the Vatican, has been called a visual translation of Matthew 25, which says, “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you took Me in.”
Aaronson first discovered the sculpture while traveling with her father in Madrid. There in the courtyard of the Almudena Cathedral was Homeless Jesus.
“I thought it was real. It was profoundly moving, and it provides a space to sit at the feet of Jesus,” said Aaronson who added that she hopes the provocative visual will challenge people to remember and care for the marginalized and even be tempted to sit next to Jesus to find solace.
“The face of the statue is deliberately concealed, so that everyone can connect and identify with the Jesus it portrays,” she added.
Helping to create a beautiful space around the sculpture will be a local architect who has agreed to donate a design around it.
In addition to the new piece of art, Aaronson said North Wildwood UMC will continue its mission to help the community by creating a Homeless Jesus Fund, whose proceeds will directly benefit the food banks and other agencies who are doing the work to benefit the community.
“Through partnerships with organizations in our community like Lazarus Food Pantry and Family Promise, we provide for those who lack basic necessities,” said Aaronson. “As a visual means to increase awareness and to evoke compassion and kindness in others, we need your help to find Homeless Jesus a home with us.” To contribute to the fund, a GoFundMe page can be found at charity.gofundme.com/north-wildwood-methodist-church.
In addition to the throngs of people who will pass by the sculpture this summer, Aaronson said she is also hoping to invite youth groups and/or other congregations to take trips to visit the sculpture, talk about their faith and call to love their neighbors and enjoy the beach.
For Aaronson, she was called to ministry only a few years ago while still practicing law in Delaware. Following a 21-year career, the native of Mantua, NJ was moved to help the needy in a different way. Now she’s getting her chance at North Wildwood UMC.