A few years ago the acronym WWJD became really popular—it stands for “What Would Jesus Do?”
So here’s a question for this time of the year: Would Jesus do Valentine’s?
Well, why not? one could argue. It’s all about love, romance and showing sweetness to someone special. Sounds like the kind of thing Jesus is all about!
But think about this for a minute: The only reason we have Valentine’s Day today is because someone started it somewhere. We can’t simply put Jesus in our context today and ask if He would be celebrating Valentine’s, without first asking would He have celebrated it when it first became popularized.
So let’s rewind history just a bit. Going way back, centuries before Jesus, the Romans had a big, three-day long religious celebration—a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. Faunus was the Roman equivalent to the Greek god Pan. He was also associated with the god Lupercus, from which this festival got the name Lupercalia, which was celebrated between the 13th and 15th of February.
All the lore surrounding the goings-on of this festival is a little murky. Some say that after the sacrifices and rituals to pray for the gods’ blessings for fertility, the bachelors would draw from an urn the names of young women, and they would be paired with them for a year, maybe longer if the relationship worked out. Others debate that, but we do know enough to conclude that, well, let’s just say that the pagans knew how to mix a lot of illicit sex into their religious celebrations.
So skip ahead a few hundred years and—I’ll just quote from a National Public Radio report—“Pope Gelasius I muddled things in the 5th century by combining St. Valentine’s Day with Lupercalia to expel the pagan rituals.” Knowing how popular it was with the masses, though, he said, we’ll still have something on Feb. 14, but we’ll honor Saint Valentine, a fellow Catholic legend says was martyred. As NPR says, “The festival was more of a theatrical interpretation of what it had once been. Lenski adds, ‘It was a little more of a drunken revel, but the Christians put clothes back on it. That didn’t stop it from being a day of fertility and love.’”
The AmericanCatholic.org website says Gelasius “changed the lottery to have both young men and women draw the names of saints whom they would then emulate for the year (a change that no doubt disappointed a few young men). Instead of Lupercus, the patron of the feast became Valentine.
“For Roman men, the day continued to be an occasion to seek the affections of women, and it became a tradition to give out handwritten messages of admiration that included Valentine’s name.”
And let’s not forget about Cupid—where did he come from? Well, in Roman mythology Cupid is the son of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. He himself is the god of raw desire, erotic love and attraction; and he was worshipped because he could cause people to fall in love by shooting them with his love-potion arrows. So, that cute little cherub on your greeting card?—a Roman god.
So would Jesus have done Valentine’s Day when it first appeared on the scene in modern Christianity? Would He have said, “Hey, I don’t have any problem with you borrowing a little religion here and there from the pagans. Want to weave their idols and gods into My religion? Go for it. Don’t worry about that silly commandment about idolatry and no other gods before Me. My God, Roman gods—no big deal.”
“Valentine’s and WWJD”—what would Jesus do? That’s pretty clear.
The real question is “Valentine’s and WWYD”—what will you do?
For Life, Hope & Truth, I’m Clyde Kilough.