This Friday is Valentine’s Day (a reminder for all of those who—probably like me—have forgotten until now). Valentine’s Day is a day each year that we celebrate the gifts of love that others are to us by giving gifts to the loved ones in our lives. Take a moment and think back over your life, what was the best gift you have ever given a loved one? Of any gift that you have given a loved one (not just Valentine’s Day), what was the best gift you have given? Now, what about others in your life? What about those who you may not say that you love but are still in your life in some way or even the strangers with whom you cross paths; what are gifts of love that you’ve given them?
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We don’t often think of giving gifts of love to those who aren’t our significant other or close family, especially when it comes to Valentine’s Day. And yet, as kids, we are all too excited to make Valentine’s Day bags or boxes and to take treats and cards for our whole class, no matter if we play with them every day or haven’t spoken a word to them all school year. I have two young girls in preschool and for almost two weeks now my oldest has been reminding me to get and deliver valentines for her class. The excitement to give even small and sugary gifts of love is almost beyond control for her and her classmates. And while it may seem foreign to us when we grow up to give gifts of love to more than just our “Valentine,” the loving excitement and generosity of our childhood resembles the love of God displayed by Jesus.
In a moment of love and humility between he and his disciples, Jesus shares with his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). If you hear this as speaking to that exact moment in time, then the loving act that Jesus is referring to is serving his disciples by washing their feet (13:1-20). Jesus’ love is serving those close to him. However, if you hear Jesus speaking of his whole life, then we see that Jesus loved in a lot of different ways. Throughout his life, Jesus shared love by lifting others up with affirming words (i.e. Matthew 16:13-20), giving his undivided attention to others (i.e. Luke 5:27-32), giving physical gifts (i.e. Luke 9:10-17), loving touch (i.e. Mark 1:40-45), along with acts of service (i.e. Mark 10:45-52 along with John 13). But these moments of Jesus giving loving gifts were not just for his close family or friends, many of them were to complete strangers who needed to be loved in that moment. Like a child giving out candy on Valentine’s Day, Jesus gave out gifts of love to whoever needed them and continues to give out gifts of love to us today. And let’s be honest, who of us does not need more gifts of love in our lives?
This might very well be what Jesus means when he tells his disciples in that moment and in all of time, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” As disciples of Jesus and children of God, we were created to love and care for all of God’s children—familiar and stranger alike—by living like Jesus and giving gifts of love to all those who need love in the moment we experience them. So, what if we didn’t just celebrate Valentine’s Day this Friday by giving gifts to the ones closest to us, but went back to our childlike faith and even just aimed to share gifts of love with those we encounter this Friday, Saturday and Sunday like we were sharing valentine candy with our classmates? Then everyone would not only know that we are Jesus’ disciples, but that we are all loved by God and each other on this Valentine’s Day and everyday of the year.