A pledge and revolution
Gradually the truth was growing on him that the pledge to do as Jesus would was working out a revolution in his parish and throughout the city.
Charles Sheldon: In His Steps
I love this novel. First published in 1897, the story frames itself around a simple yet profound concept - what would Jesus do? It was a narrative that impacted a young Welsh preacher by the name of Evan Roberts, challenging him to pursue an answer with who ever dared join him. The results of which are written in history under the title 'the 1904 Welsh revival'.
There is a scene in the book that has continually challenged me. A preacher in a respectable church had just about finished his sermon when:
…suddenly into the midst of this perfect accord and concord between preacher and audience, there came a very remarkable interruption… It came from the rear of the church, from one of the seats under the gallery. The next moment the figure of a man came out of the shadow there and walked down the middle aisle. Before the startled congregation fairly realised what was going on, the man had reached the open space in front of the pulpit and had turned about, facing the people.
The interruption was from a vagrant.
I’m not an ordinary tramp, though I don’t know of any teaching of Jesus that makes one kind of a tramp less worth saving than another… I was wondering, as I sat there under the gallery, if what you call following Jesus is the same thing as what he taught. What do you Christians mean by following the steps of Jesus?.. What is meant by following Jesus?
He then told the story of how his wife had died in a tenement (rented substandard room/s usually occupied by those marginalised, poor or elderly) that was owned by a Christian. And that his daughter now lives with a friend while he looks for a job and place to live. The tramp then continued.
Somehow I get puzzled when I see so many Christians living in luxury and singing 'Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow thee', and remember how my wife died in a tenement in New York City gasping for air, and asking God to take the little girl too. Of course I don’t expect you people can prevent everyone from dying of starvation, lack of proper nourishment, and tenement air, but what does following Jesus mean?
It seems to me there’s an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs (as 'All for Jesus, all my being's ransomed powers, all my thoughts and all my doings, all my days and all my hours') went and lived them out. I suppose I don’t understand. But what would Jesus do? Is that what you mean by following his steps? It seems to me sometimes as if the people in the churches had good clothes and nice houses to live in, and money to spend for luxuries, and could go away on summer vacations and all that, while the people outside the churches, thousands of them, I mean, die in tenements and walk the streets for jobs…
I won’t spoil the rest of the book, as I would highly recommend anyone who reads this blog to glance over its pages. But I will just add that the tramps challenge provoked both the preacher and some of his congregation to take a pledge for a year to
'not to do anything without first asking the question 'what would Jesus do?'
The results of which impacted all aspects of life for the characters in the book. 'What would Jesus do?' was not a merchandisable phrase for them, neither was it a soundbite. It was a powerful question that looked deep into the heart and demanded a response outside of the comfort zone of their manufactured world.