Many have seen the new sculpture “Homeless Jesus” in front of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Davidson, or read the news coverage on Davidsonnews.net. You might think it odd that a rabbi feels inclined to weigh in. However, since Jesus was a “member of the tribe” (Jewish), I hope you will indulge me. The “Homeless Jesus” statue also ties in with one of the central themes of the upcoming Jewish holiday (festival) of Passover: freedom.
Often, when thinking of Passover and freedom, we think of the Israelites’ freedom from Egyptian slavery as told in the book of Exodus. Once the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds and made their way to the Promised Land, they were free of the coercion of bondage.
However, “freedom from …” does not capture the complete freedom of Passover. Passover reminds us that we also do or should have a “freedom to …” This is the freedom to live as we wish, worship as we wish, build sacred communities as we wish. For Jews, the “freedom to” approach is lived out through acceptance of mitzvot (sacred commandments). We have the freedom to live out our Jewish values, and advocate for human dignity and freedom throughout the world. We have the freedom to accept responsibility. This sacred responsibility that is an embodiment of true freedom calls on us to le-takken olam be-malkhut Shaddai, “to repair the world under the sovereignty of God.”
Once we were slaves in Egypt, and then we were free. Today, many of us are free from poverty, hunger, oppression, and loneliness, just to name a few; and many of us have the freedom to do many things. However, we know this is not the case for too many around the world and in our own community. The “Homeless Jesus” statue is a daily reminder of our commitment to pursue justice for those who are not yet free.
In a commentary on Numbers 23:2, Rabbi Chaim ben Attar (known as Or HaChaim) posits that, “the Exodus from Egypt is an ongoing phenomenon. Each Passover seder, we relive the process of being unshackled from the fetters of evil, symbolized by the Egyptian exile, and being released by the sacred sparks of God’s grace. Accordingly, the liberation that that the Israelites experienced and their subsequent redemption serves as a metaphor for the scope of human experience.”
The “Homeless Jesus” sculpture and the festival of Passover are opportunities to choose – to affirm our obligation and commitment to others who are still shackled by injustice. There are those in our midst, whether visible or hidden, who are strangers to freedom.
In Deuteronomy 24:22 it says, “for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt, and the Holy One liberated you with an outstretched hand.” We all know what it feels like to be unwanted or unnoticed, to be rejected, to be cast aside, to be invisible. We, created in God’s image, sacred human beings, have a sacred duty to hold out our outstretched hand to others.
“Know, you serve as a shaliach, a “messenger” of the Holy Blessing One, the God who took a group of strangers into freedom – because someone had to do it.” (Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson)
Whether you believe in God as I do or not, a call to justice for our fellow human beings around the world, but even more so in our local community, is a call we must NOT find the freedom to ignore.
A heartfelt thank you to St. Alban’s for issuing a louder cry for justice in our shared Davidson community.
Michael Shields is rabbi at Temple Kol Tikvah in Davidson. For more about the temple visit http://www.templekoltikvah.org/
Passover is April 14-22, 2014.