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“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!” (Luke 6:32).

Valentine’s Day is a day in popular culture set apart
for celebrations of romantic love. So it seems only appropriate for me
to reflect on Luke 6:32, a passage that focuses on love.

The origins of this holiday are somewhat obscure. Several men named “Valentine” (Valentinus)
were recognized as martyred saints the church. One of these was
buried near Rome on February 14. Medieval tradition held that this
particular Valentine, a priest, was conducting marriage ceremonies in a
time when the Roman emperor prohibited young men from marrying. For this
crime, he was arrested and killed 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 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.

Mark D. Roberts
Happy Valentine

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