In our rapidly changing culture, words seem to pop up daily that are either completely new, or re-purposed with new meanings. Another word like that is the word “viral.”
As a medical term, a virus is an infection or disease that is easily and rapidly passed from one person to the next. But in today’s culture, it is also used to describe an idea, or video, or product that has quickly spread to a large percentage of the world’s population. When something “goes viral,” it means that a lot of people are thinking about it, buying it, or watching it.
I was listening to a podcast interview of business guru Seth Godin recently describing the difference between good ideas that go viral and those that do not. After years of observation, he said, it was really only one thing. Something goes viral if it is captivating, or life changing, or amazing enough that people tell their family and friends about it…or in Facebook lingo, “share it.” That’s it…when people are compelled to immediately pass it on, it goes viral.
He gives the example of the most famous “great idea,” which has been used for decades as the standard for all other great ideas…“sliced bread.” But Godin says that there was a time when sliced bread was not viewed as the great idea it would soon become. When it was first invented, it did not catch on right away, and was even viewed with some suspicion. Bakers thought it would cause the bread to go stale more quickly and so they didn’t trust it. And since they didn’t trust it, not many people were willing to try it. For about fifteen years sliced bread was available but no one was calling up their neighbors about it. That finally changed one day when a new bread company, “Wonder Bread,” decided to make it the focus of their marketing campaign and persuaded people to give it a chance. When that happened, the idea spread so fast it quickly became known as the “greatest thing since…??”
But how does one go about actually getting something to “go viral?” That has been the focus of thousands of business and entrepreneurial conferences, business seminars, publications, and MBA dissertations, ever since people began making their living selling things to each other.
So, we might ask, how did an obscure carpenter and rabbi, who never wrote a book, never had his own podcast, was never interviewed on the local radio or TV stations, become remembered and talked about and celebrated for over 2000 years?
In Luke 24, When Jesus met up with those two on the road to Emmaus, and played dumb about recent events, they said to him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” They were shocked that this person walking with them wasn’t aware of all the amazing and staggering events that surrounded the final days of Jesus’ life, including his missing body.
When we open a loaf of bread in the 21st century we take for granted that the bread will be sliced evenly, ready to pop into a toaster. When we hear of people that are standing up for justice and equality, for love without condition or limits, for hope in the face of tragedy or heartache, we can sometimes be equally nonchalant and casual. It is easy and common to miss the “amazing” in it. And yet there are still many places and people who are suffering under the mistaken understanding that love must be earned and acceptance given only to the worthy.
But fortunately, over 2000 years ago, a group of people were astonished and surprised enough to call their friends and tell Jesus’ story, and together create a new community dedicated to remembering and living His message of kindness and mercy. So from that time forward “sliced bread” has been available for all to enjoy. Jesus wasn’t the only or even the first to talk about unconditional love, but he was the Wonder Bread Company of the world, taking the message of God’s unmerited favor and love, viral.