If you live in the western United States wildfires are clear and present dangers. Recent years have seen all kinds of records shattered. We now speak of millions of acres burning everything in the way. Before 1986, wildfires were contained on average in less than eight days. Twenty-five years later, the average wildfire burns for 37 days.
This Vincentian Mindwalk explores a vastly more powerful and long-lasting wildfire, that has lasted over 2000 years and transformed over two billion lives today. (True, some of these lives seem to be dying embers while others are torches spreading the flames.)
A wildfire no one saw coming and … should not have happened
Roman Emperors rejoiced in their power. Initially, they did not see the power of a fire started by one called Jesus and a small group of followers drawn from very ordinary people. Soon they tried to extinguish this wildfire movement by extreme persecution.
In retrospect, this growth is not only amazing. By all human reckoning, it should have burned out quickly.
Initially, not only was the movement illegal. They didn’t have any buildings or churches to meet in. Their leaders were not high born or trained. They simply celebrated the gift of Jesus’ Spirit with their sisters and brothers as Jesus had told them.
When they gathered, they shared memories and stories to celebrate the love that Jesus showed them and asked them to have for one another.
They didn’t have recruitment drives, youth groups, seminaries, theology textbooks, etc.
Yet two hundred years later the Emperor made fateful peace with a movement numbering some 20 million people. Today, there are over 2 billion followers of Christ.
The gift that transforms billions
On that first Pentecost, the Spirit descended on Jesus’ followers in tongues of fire. They were filled with Jesus’ own spirit and their tongues could not stop telling of that gift.
They rejoiced in God’s love for each person, even his enemies and those who put him to a most painful and ignominious death.
Whatever suffering they experienced, they knew they would rise to eternal life just as Jesus had.
The tongues of fire were translated into concrete actions. Their neighbors marveled… “See how they love one another”!
They never saw the movie “Pay it forward”! But they understood the lead line “When someone does you a good deed, don’t pay it back, pay it forward.”
A gift is something you are freely given. They understood God’s love as Gift. They knew they could never earn God’s love. It took them a while to understand Jesus asking them to wash one another’s feet. He was asking them to pay the gift of God’s love forward. Washing one another’s feet celebrated the memory of the Love God had given them.
Pope Francis reminds us
The Apostles devised no strategy; when they were locked in the Upper Room, they were not strategizing, no, they were not drafting any pastoral plan.”
The Apostles set off: unprepared, yet putting their lives on the line. One thing kept them going: the desire to give what they received. “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you” ( I John 1:3).
If we realize that what we are is his gift, free and unmerited, then we too will want to make our lives a gift.
The Spirit, the living memory of the Church, reminds us that we are born from a gift and that we grow by giving: not by holding on but by giving of ourselves.
- Do we recognize God’s love as God’s greatest gift?
- Will we pay this love forward?
Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk