If you have been on any social media these days, chances are very good that you have heard this phrase, or a variation of it. “I challenge N. to either donate a $100 to ALS or to dump a bucket of ice on your head. You have 24 hours.” Former presidents have done so. Family members of victims have done so. Football teams and actors and a veritable host of famous people have taken the challenge. Even Kermit the Frog has done the ice bucket challenge. Most seem to do both a check and the ceremonial dumping of the ice on their heads. (The best one I have seen so far is of a guy who gets a whole concrete truck of water poured on him followed by a front-loader’s worth dumped on top.)
It has been an amazing boon to raising awareness of this horrendous disease, as well as raising funds for research. And there is a good Catholic option, by the way, to this – instead of sending money to the ALS society, you can send it to the John Paul II research facility which uses adult stem cells in their research for ALS instead of embryonic ones.**(See mailing address below homily)** Or you can donate directly to an affected person to help with their medical and treatment costs. In the short term – the ice bucket challenge is the hottest thing going. And it is the most hopeful thing my friends Dave and Ann have seen since Dave’s diagnosis a year and a half ago. But will it have a lasting effect on research? – that is the question. And will it truly raise awareness past just the few days and weeks that fads such as these run?
Jesus – aware that people are prone to ‘flash in the pan’ fads – to ideas that spring to life and then just as quickly fade away, begins to ask his disciples who the crowds say that he is. Is he just another person doing the ice bucket challenge of his day – the itinerant preacher gig, proclaiming good news one day and then gone the next, or is there something more, something else going on? What’s the buzz, what is the atmosphere around me and this little movement?” Because he knows he wants what he is doing to be something more than a fad, something more than a one-time gimmick and response, he makes a direct challenge to his disciples: “And you, who do YOU say I am?”
I suspect that the disciples knew by both the tone in his voice, and the place where he asked the question, that he was wanting more than a one-time-within-24-hours kind of response. You see, Caesarea Philippi was at a pagan cross roads. It was about a 2 and a half day hike from the shores of the sea of Galilee through some pretty inhospitable country. But the city built where the underground snow melt from far away Mount Hermon broke through the ground in lush springs, and to this day, it is the most important fresh water resource in the holy land. And because of this huge stone wall and immense cavern, the place was replete with temples and shrines and wall niches to almost every kind of deity and worship style and religious fad that existed. So much so, that the Jewish people (a mono-theistic religion) referred to that spot as the gates of the netherworld because of the many gods. Here in that spot – Jesus asks his disciples THE question. “Am I just “One of these gods, one of these fad religions, here today and gone tomorrow to you, OR… is there something more to me and to what I am going to demand of you than all this?
That was the ice bucket challenge of Jesus’ life, still rolling down the ages, addressed not just to his disciples with him, but to anyone whom would seek to follow him – WHO DO YOU SAY I AM? And unlike the ice bucket challenge, he is not interested in a 24 hour response time, but rather a 24/7 response.
But here is the other truth about Jesus’ challenge – it is one that is seldom spoken out loud, or delivered via a facebook message. Rather, it happens when:
• You are wounded by a boyfriend/girlfriend, or by a loved one, or a family member and you have the chance to ‘let them have it’ and the question is there: Who are you about to say I am in your response?
• You struggle with viewing images/movies that are less than dignified – and before you open the website or buy the ticket, the question is there: Who are you saying I am in this?
• You are approached for the 10th time this week by that same awkward kid down the hall, asking for help with math, and as you think about your response, there is the question: Who do you say I am
• In a positive way: When you decide to be a part of a peaceful prayer vigil at Michael Brown’s shooting site or donate to a Ferguson food pantry that is short on supplies because of the turmoil, you say who Jesus is.
• When you sacrifice your time to be with an elderly neighbor or to cut the grass of a friend who had knee surgery; you say to Jesus who he is…
I hope, for my friends Dave and Ann, that the Ice Bucket challenge makes a huge difference in the fight against ALS. But more so, I pray that you and I might give answer again and again by how WE LIVE to that most important challenge that Jesus gives to us: “Who DO YOU say I am…”
So, I’m calling all of you out, right here and right now, to take the “Jesus challenge.” Only, it is not a one-time challenge, and you don’t have 24 hours. Rather, you have between now and that moment when you come down to receive our Lord in communion to renew your commitment for 24/7 in every decision you make and every action you take… Who DO you say he is?
John Paul II Medical Research Institute
540 E. Jefferson St., Suite 202
Iowa City, IA 52245