Happy Valentine’s Day!
“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!”
Today is St. Valentine's Day, a day in popular culture set apart for celebrations of romantic love. So it seems only appropriate for me to offer one further reflection on Luke 6:27-36, a passage that focuses on love.
The origins of this holiday are somewhat obscure. Several men named “Valentine” (Valentinus) were recognized as martyred saints by the church. One of these was buried near Rome on February 14. Medieval tradition held that this particular Valentine, a priest, was marrying Christian couples in a time when the Roman emperor prohibited young men from marrying. For this crime, he was arrested and killed by the Roman government. In recent times, an addition to this story claims that Valentine, before his death, sent a love note to a young girl whom he loved, signing it, “From your Valentine.”
Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe that any of the historical saints named Valentine actually did any of these actions that might be associated with romantic love. Apparently, the connection between St. Valentine and romance was popularized by Geoffrey Chaucer, the 14th-century English writer and poet. Later, writers on the saints embellished Chaucer’s story, leaving us with the Christian saint who honored marriage and sent the first Valentine’s Day card.
I grew up hearing very little about St. Valentine. February 14 was simply a day when we did special things to express affection for our friends and family members. The “big event” happened at school, when we would exchange valentines with our classmates. As soon as I got home after school, I’d dump out my pile of valentines to see if any of them included special notes from the girls in my class or those Sweetheart candies with little messages on them. (Honestly, I was happier with the candy than the notes.)
At this point, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with Jesus’ call to love. Our Valentine’s Day traditions seem to be completely disconnected from what we read in Luke 6:32: “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them.”
Yet, in a way, my boyhood Valentine’s Day practice did express love like that of Jesus. You see, I did not give valentines only to my friends or to the girls I hoped would like me in a special way. Rather, my fellow students and I were expected to give valentines to every person in the class, including those whom we didn’t care for, those whom we judged to be “weird,” and those we might have considered to be our “enemies” on the playground. We even gave cards to the kids who did not reciprocate. Ironically, our valentine exchange was more a reflection of the kind of love Jesus commends in Luke 6 than it was a celebration of exclusive, romantic love.
I think it’s fine to be reminded to express love to those who are most special to us. If Valentine’s Day encourages spouses to say “I love you” to each other and friends to commemorate their friendship, that’s great. Goodness knows, the world would be a better place if people expressed their love more often. But Jesus encourages us to love, not just those who love us back, but also those who do not reciprocate. All of us have such people in our lives, at work, in the local store, perhaps even in our families or our church. Our calling, as followers of Jesus, is to love them and do good to them, not in order that they might respond, but so that we might live each day as beloved, faithful children of our Heavenly Father.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What childhood memories do you have of Valentine’s Day? How might you love the people in your life who do not reciprocate?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, on this day when we celebrate romantic love, I thank you for this gift. It does indeed enrich our lives. Yet you call us to so much more than what romantic love entails. You call us to love, not just our friends, but also our enemies. You challenge us to love those who do not return our love.
Help me, Lord, to express my love for those who are closest to me: my wife, my children, my family and friends. But, even more, I ask that you help me to love as you loved, to broadcast your love even and especially to those who cannot or will not reciprocate. Teach me to love even those I don’t like, the people I’d rather avoid. May I love as you love, Lord. I pray in your name, Amen.