Today, I’m told, is the day of love. Hallmark, chocolate makers and sellers of jewelry have gone to great lengths to remind me that my marriage is doomed unless I take their advice,buy their wares, and frantically calculate if it will fit into my budget. If not, maybe I need to calculate what necessities can be cut out of my life, after all, a disappointed spouse is a a possibility far too dreadful to be contemplated.
In the Hallmark world, love is defined by getting what you want. Shiny things, things that make you feel good, even if they are done at the expense of another. Looked at in the mirror of reality, the chimera of Valentine’s day is really a day that taken to its logical extremes is simply a story of greed and selfishness. When I was speaking with an acquaintance of mine yesterday, I realized that the 350 dollars he had budgeted for the day were probably not going to overcome the other character traits that may impede the success of his long term relationship, I was reminded that the only winner when we chase this somewhat delusional notion of romantic love is the company that prints the cards, sells the chocolate, or provides you with any of the other essential things that are required to show that you truly love the other.
In our world, we have elevated the notion of romantic love to a place of impossibility. While I might be able to be on my best behavior for one day of the year, I am a man of many faults, as my wife knows far too well. I am governed by the tyranny of the urgent, distracted by the perceived important far too frequently to qualify as any kind of stellar example of the qualities of romantic love.
And yet, if that is what love was, then the world would be a different place. You would think, after all, that one day of so called romantic perfection would start a tidal wave of changed relationships and changed lives. I wonder what the stats are of people who break up because they were disappointed in their plans on this day not meeting their expectations? And whether, there is any more happiness in selfishness?
I was reading John’s gospel this morning when I found a completely different picture of love.
In this story, romantic love has gone horribly wrong. Love turned into lust, in in John 8, we meet a woman who was caught in adultery, the inverse narrative of the Hallmark world. She’s taken in front of Jesus for judgment by the religious leaders of the day, wounded, broken, and exposed both physically and emotionally for all the world to see and to scorn. The law demanded death for this sin, death by public stoning, death as spectacle. The sentence was clear, provided that the evidence was there, which the text seems to indicate that it was. So, they took this relatively black and white case to Jesus, the Rabbi who was turning the world upside down, to see if they could trap him into defying the law of Moses that governed every aspect of their lives.
For many years I have wondered what he wrote on the ground that day with his finger. I suppose I will never know, but this much I know. When he stood up and said, “Let he that has not sinned throw the first rock”, he redefined love. The first and primary way to love is to be aware of our own weaknesses, our own flaws, our own brokenness. When we have come face to face with those, then and only then, can we accurately measure the inability of our significant others to live up to our expectations.
But it gets better. He goes on to tell the woman, after all of the big shots with all of the answers had slunk away, leaving them alone, how love lives. The great promise of Christ is that he does not condemn us either, and as long as we acknowledge Him as Lord, we are simply to “go and sin no more”. More than I need to remember flowers, or chocolate, or anything else, I need to remember grace in my relationships. I need to remember that I don’t measure up any more than anyone else does, and that because of Christ my Advocate I stand, not condemned, but liberated to go and sin no more.
And then I see, that love done right is not things, or gifts, but grace. I stand reminded of my failures to extend it, but I am encouraged by this story of love. I don’t always open the car door, or show up with fresh flowers but I look at those as opportunities for my wife to show grace (and for me to work on my running skills).
I like to think, that when he wrote in the sand with his finger that day, that he wrote “grace and love”- to a people who were bound by doing the right things, and being in the right places, and appearing to be the right people . May he write those same things in our hearts today, so that we can show everyone what love really is.