It is true. I love Jesus. But the Jesus I love looks nothing like the popular one running around our country spewing fear and hate. The Jesus I love is brown, not white. He didn't grow up in the Bible Belt. He grew up in the Middle East. He never said a peep about sexual orientation, but he had a good plenty to say about love, forgiveness, and generosity. Jesus didn't objectify women, he empowered them. He didn't put children in cages, he blessed them. Jesus didn't reject people because of their religious preference or nationality. He talked to them. He healed them. He loved them. That is the Jesus I love. That is the Jesus my congregation seeks to serve.
Outside our church doors on the corner of Eighth and Brazos streets, the sculpture, "Homeless Jesus," reminds us of the God we serve. Canadian artist, Timothy Schmalz, sculpted the bronze image of Christ to challenge the privileged to extend compassion to those living in poverty. He also hoped to inspire the marginalized to see Christ within themselves. About 100 copies of the statue are placed throughout the world.
Sometimes when I enter the church, I am startled by a person sleeping behind the sculpture. Always in a rush and focused on my "to-do" list, I don’t even notice the person sleeping on a concrete bed. Suddenly a man or woman rouses and catch my attention with eyes that plead for permission to stay. In that instance, the bronze mold comes to life, reminding me again of whom I am called to serve.
As the City of Austin continues its struggle to support those experiencing homelessness, I pray that all churches can hear Christ’s call to care for "the least of these" (Matthew 25:40). It is a startling call that jerks us out of comfort zones and catapults us to a new world order — a place of love and hope on Earth that Jesus imagined.
In recognition of the National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, Nov. 16-24, our congregation will gather at our Homeless Jesus sculpture this Sunday at noon to remember the men, women and children who died on the streets of Austin in 2019. Caritas is also offering its Annual Memorial Service at sunrise (6:58 a.m., 9307 Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail).
May these services give us an opportunity to proclaim our love for a radical Jesus who came to change the world.
The Rev. Katheryn Barlow-Williams, is the senior pastor of Central Presbyterian Church that celebrated its 180th year of ministry in downtown Austin.