What would Jesus do … on Valentine’s Day?
You wouldn’t expect Him to be desperately wandering the drug-store aisle, inspecting the remains of a picked-over candy selection. You can’t picture him insincerely signing dozens of valentine cards, almost by rote. Flowers? Reservations at that swank restaurant?
All very familiar and predictable, but none of it fits.
Jesus would show His unconditional love to everyone — but that would be as true on July 14 as Feb. 14.
It’s known as agape love, given without the expectation of receiving anything in return. Sometimes, it’s loving the unlovable, the downtrodden, the forgotten.
On a holiday that generates $19.6 billion in American purchases of candy hearts, heart-shaped chocolate boxes, flowers, and jewelry, while seeing about 6 million couples get engaged, what if that romantic backdrop also included a tradition of forgiveness, service, and random acts of kindness?
|Rev. John Legg, pastor of Temple Terrace UMC, Tampa|
“Valentine’s Day is usually showing appreciation for an existing relationship or the things somebody else possesses, whether it’s their beauty or the fact they make us laugh,’’ said Rev. John Legg, pastor of Temple Terrace United Methodist Church. “It’s dependent on what they do for us.
“But if we turn that around, it’s seeing the inherent worth and value of every person because they’re a child of God first. The normal Valentine’s Day lets me respond to what you’ve done for me. The agape Valentine’s Day lets me see you for who you are because of what God is doing in me.’’
The Rev. Vicki Walker, minister of missions and outreach for Tampa’s Hyde Park United Methodist Church, said she likes Valentine’s Day. She likes talking about love and expressing love. Most years, she anticipates the day with excitement. But some years, she has dreaded it. There were even occasions when she broke up with a romantic partner ON Valentine’s Day.
“Like any holiday, it can be abused, misunderstood, and commercialized,’’ Walker said. “You can say, ‘Oh, I don’t want a card’ or ‘I don’t want flowers,’ but I don’t think any of us want to be ignored. We all come from our own broken and wounded lives.
“We have needs that Jesus would already know, and He would be present. Forget the cards and flowers. The gift of just being present is not a gift we give to each other very often.’’
To love like Jesus loved?
|Rev. Vicki Walker, minister of missions and outreach, Hyde Park UMC, Tampa|
On Valentine’s Day — or any day — Walker said that is a challenge.
“Jesus saw the inside of people and wasn’t distracted by exterior behaviors or looks or clothing or circumstances,’’ Walker said. “He saw the spark of the divine within each living being He encountered. That became the place of connection for Him.
“We are often distracted by things that we use to build walls or wedges between us. In a culture that seems to be so polarized right now, we tend to look for differences instead of similarities. And I think we tend to judge people, but we want other people to give us a second chance. None of that is unconditional love.’’
Unconditional love is the ideal.
But the ideal scenario often gets lost in the human experience.
“We just had the Super Bowl in our area, and it’s staggering to think about how much money was spent on entertainment,’’ said the Rev. Kipp Nelson, minister of outreach and evangelism at First United Methodist Church of Miami. “It doesn’t mean you take away all the entertainment, but how could we have used some of that money to actually make a difference in the world?
“Many of these Super Bowl events are for the privileged and the wealthy. With the way Jesus loved, He cared for the people who didn’t have privilege. I don’t want to hate on Valentine’s Day because I think it has its place and its purpose. But I do think we can get caught up in the Hallmark movie-type stuff and make it into a fairy tale. The real love we express toward our neighbor doesn’t need to be overdramatized.’’
|Rev. Kipp Nelson, minister of outreach and evangelism at First UMC, Miami|
When Nelson considers agape love, flowers and candy aren’t part of the equation.
It’s about sacrifice.
It’s about intentionality.
“I’m a huge advocate for looking for the divine of each person that we see,’’ Nelson said. “You can express that affirmation to another person and say, ‘I see God in you.’ Showing someone love begins there. Loving our neighbors can really start with a simple gesture, just acknowledging their human existence.
“I think we have first to be humble and realize that God has loved us unconditionally in ways we have not earned or merited. If we can recognize that God has done that for us, why can we not do the same for others so they might encounter God’s grace and love?’’
Walker said the challenge for everyone is learning how to love unconditionally without expecting anything in return.
That goes against the stereotypical Valentine’s Day experience.
“If you’re weighing the value of the gift received in response to the gift given, if that’s how you define Valentine’s Day, that really has nothing to do with love,’’ Walker said. “I think we can all love without getting anything in return. It’s hard, but we’re called to do it. That’s what being a disciple of Jesus is all about. God knows my heart, and my thoughts, and still loves me. That love is not based on my works or behavior. It’s so amazing that it’s beyond our comprehension.
“Of course, Valentine’s Day gets massive attention in our country. But I think it matters more how you treat each other on the 13th and 15th of February. Jesus would want us to express agape love to people on the days when no one was watching, when the restaurants weren’t full and when the florists weren’t selling anything. Jesus would want every day to be Valentine’s Day.’’
--Joey Johnston is a freelance writer from Tampa.