Jesus, our Valentine

GOD'S WORD TODAY - Manuel V. Francisco, S.J. -

In faith, let us Christianize this secularized and commercialized celebration today called Valentine’s Day. At the center of it all, if we celebrate it seriously, is nothing less than love incarnate. Love that is not bought by money or power, but by giving one’s all till death. All for the sake of love.

The very name Valentine goes all the way back to the third century, although there is no connection between this secularized, commercialized celebration and the original Valentine. The latter was the name of a Christian Priest in Rome who assisted martyrs during the persecution under Emperor Claudius II. He was eventually arrested and sent before the prefect of Rome. When he refused to renounce his faith, he was beaten and beheaded. Thus, by offering his heart and life, he proved himself as a true disciple of Christ the Greatest Lover of mankind.

Jesus loved anyone and everyone, especially those who needed him most. The poor, the sick, the hungry   materially and spiritually. Moved by compassion and love, he reached out to them, as recorded in all the four Gospels. The lepers, the paralytics, the blind, the deaf and mute, and those possessed by demons. He broke some loveless laws of his own religion, like dining with public sinners and tax collectors, curing on the Sabbath, and reaching out to women. It is worth recalling some of these in loving detail.

No less than a Roman centurion, officially anti-Israelite, approached Jesus in faith and asked him to cure his paralyzed servant, who was suffering terribly. Moved with compassion, Jesus offered to go home with the centurion to cure his servant. The centurion said in response: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” Jesus was amazed at his faith, and lovingly cured his servant from a distance. (Mt. 8: 5-13). In an even more dramatic and loving way, Jesus brought back to life the dead daughter of another Roman official, and cured a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. (Mt. 9: 18-26).

That chief tax collector, Zaccheus, was also a rich man. Through what means we can already guess. But in due time, there was a strong, inner desire on his part to meet Jesus. Small in stature, he climbed a sycamore tree, so that he could see Jesus when the latter would pass by, surrounded by a big crowd. Once again, moved by compassion, Jesus invited himself to rest at Zaccheus’ house. There and then, just by Jesus’ loving and forgiving presence, Zaccheus experienced a deep conversion of heart, which he expressed in words addressed to Jesus: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over.” Jesus responded: “Today salvation has come to this house….The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” (Lk. 19: 1-10).

It was this Jesus, the unconditional Lover, who invited his apostles to the Last Supper, and there performed a most humble and loving task. During those times, there were no shoes, so people just wore sandals made mostly from animal skin. You can imagine how dirty their feet were as they entered their homes. Washing their feet was a task given to their slaves. A most lowly task. The apostles could hardly believe what Jesus did, especially Peter, who initially resisted being washed by Jesus. Well, this was precisely what Jesus did for his apostles. That was how much he loved and cared for them. But then, the punchline of it all is what we all must not miss. “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” (Jn. 13: 1-17).

To reach out to our fellow human beings, especially those who need us most. We are their Valentines, they are ours. “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.’ ” (Mt. 9: 36-38).

You and I are the laborers in the Lover’s vineyard. Are we doing our task of love and compassion? Can we do more than what we are already doing? What do we want to really live and die for? Is our love for neighbor conditional or unconditional? What more can we do to be real agents and advocates of social justice? What about the coming national elections what can we do to really be Jesus’ loving disciples?

Do we really want Jesus to be our Valentine? Listen to your heart in your moments of silence and solitude. There you will find the answer. There you will find your Valentine. He will place his arm around your shoulder and accompany you to be no less than a Lover like him.

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