The Jesus Challenge

Published 9:00 am Friday, August 29, 2014

The Ice Bucket Challenge is sweeping the nation. It goes like this: Someone dumps a bucket of ice water on his or her head and then nominates a few others to either do the same or donate $100 to the ALS Association. The stunt has apparently been quite effective. The Association reports that it has “received $41.8 million in donations compared to $2.1 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to Aug. 21). These donations have come from existing donors and 739,275 new donors.” The New York Times reported on the 17th that, “People have shared more than 1.2 million videos on Facebook between June 1 and Aug. 13 and mentioned the phenomenon more than 2.2 million times on Twitter since July 29, according to those sites.”

About 30,000 Americans have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which attacks nerve cells, leads to total paralysis, and is lethal. The ALS Association provides care for patients and funds the search for new treatments and a cure. It’s great to see so many people raising awareness and money for such an important cause.

I would like to use this moment of raised awareness and charitable activity to remind folks of another challenge that was put forth long ago. It’s a bit more demanding than being doused with ice water or coughing up a hundred bucks. So it’s no surprise that it has been almost universally ignored for over 2,000 years now. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take it seriously. The challenge goes like this: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”

There it is, the Jesus Challenge. Give away all that you have. Now that‘s a challenge. Anyone accept? The fellow Jesus told that to had come eager for a challenge, “But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (For the full story see Matthew 19:16-26.)

“[The] hungred… [the] thirsty… [the] stranger… [the] naked… [the] sick… [those] in prison… inasmuch as ye have [helped] one of the least of these my brethren, ye have [helped] me” (Matthew 25:37-40).

If you’re interested in the Jesus Challenge, in full or in part, practical advice on how to most effectively help “the least of these” can be found at,, and

But that’s just for charity. That’s the easy part. The Jesus Challenge goes way beyond charity. Charity is just the first step. “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor [step 1]… and come and follow me [step 2].” And how do we follow? By dedicating not just our money, but our whole lives to “the least of these.” “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). “And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

And how do we do that? Well, as Jesus said “the axe is laid unto the root” (Luke 3:9). Charity alleviates immediate suffering, but it doesn’t get to the roots of the problem. The roots are political and social. The problem is systemic. Charity doesn’t solve systemic problems. To get at these roots requires serious social and political awareness and involvement.

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). By not just giving direct aid to those in need, but by fighting to change the power structures that create poverty in the first place, by opposing injustice on every front, we truly love one another and help “the least of these.” To serve in this eternal struggle for justice is to take up the cross.

That’s the Jesus Challenge. “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way” (Matthew 7:14). “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).

STEPHEN WARREN lives in Waverly and can be contacted at