Year A – 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

A Gift for Valentine’s Day

(Ecc.15:15-20; 1Cor.2:6-10; Mt.5:17-37)

Next week is Valentine’s Day. All around the world on 14 February, millions of couples will be celebrating their passion, friendship and love.

Not much is known about St Valentine, but it’s said that he was a Catholic priest who lived in 3rd Century Rome, during the Christian persecution. At one point, Emperor Claudius II insisted that his soldiers’ first love should be Rome itself, so he made it illegal for them to marry.

Valentine responded by conducting secret weddings, but he was caught and gaoled. A judge then offered to release him if he restored his blind daughter’s vision. Valentine placed his hands on her eyes and her sight was restored. The judge was delighted and did release him, and even became a Christian himself.

But the persecution continued, and Claudius had Valentine executed on 14 February, in 269 AD. Legend tells us that just before he died, he wrote to that girl, signing his letter ‘from your Valentine’.

Now on every Valentine’s Day, millions of couples celebrate their friendship and love by exchanging letters, poems and gifts. This wonderful tradition highlights for us just how important love is to us all. Indeed, Martin Luther King once described love as the greatest force in the universe.

Many of us would like to get better at understanding and practising love. We’d like to become much better lovers. Well, there’s no better teacher than Jesus, and in today’s Gospel reading, which comes from his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers us some very good advice. He says that the state of our heart is just as important as the specific things we do.

Jesus begins by talking about obedience to the Law of God, as given to Israel through Moses, and he reminds us of the Fifth Commandment: ‘You shall not kill.’ He says that it’s not enough to say that you’ve never killed anyone, for that’s a very superficial reading of the law.

There are so many ways to destroy people without actually killing them. For example, there’s hatred, hostility, slander and abuse. There’s also gossiping, belittling, insulting language, back-stabbing and giving someone the cold shoulder. All these actions are nasty and very destructive, but below the threshold of murder.

Jesus’ point is that it’s not enough to obey the letter of the law. It’s not enough to be seen to do the right thing, which is all the Pharisees care about.

We need to go beyond that, and recognise the spirit of the law, for all of God’s commandments are meant to lead us towards authentic love.

Jesus then talks about the Sixth Commandment: ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ Again, he says that it’s not enough to say that you’ve never committed adultery, because there are so many ways to undermine a marriage and destroy a relationship. This includes lustful thoughts, inappropriate behaviours and drifting away from family life.

A couple might be legally married, and technically there may have been no adultery, but emotionally and practically, it may be as though they have already divorced.

Once again, we need to go beyond the letter of the law and start reading our own hearts. How are our thoughts and desires affecting our relationships?

And finally, Jesus talks about honesty. He says that it’s not enough to make and keep oaths in legal situations. It’s far better that we are transparently trustworthy in everything we say and do.

Our word should always be clear and reliable, wherever we are, and not loaded with technical half-truths or double-meanings. When we say something, others shouldn’t have to guess what we mean. We should be people of truth.

Our yes should mean yes, and our no should mean no.

Jesus’ point is that integrity and wholeness are essential in all our relationships. If we are serious about living lives of love, then we must be open and accountable, and our motivations must be pure.

Every Valentine’s Day, millions of dollars are spent on flowers, chocolate and cards. These are all very nice, but surely the greatest gift of all is unconditional, honest and heartfelt love.

It’s God who sent the first Valentine, and it’s Jesus who demonstrates what true love is. Today he teaches us that the state of our heart is just as important as the things we do.

On Valentine’s Day, and every other day of the year, if we want to become better lovers, we must always use our hearts, as well as our heads.