Valentine’s Day is a bit of an odd day to celebrate for me, frankly, because it’s a day that I never really celebrated till fairly recently. My first Valentine ever was my husband, then fiance, six years ago. Up till then? I was that perpetually single woman that my single friends would find solidarity with on Valentine’s Day.
So, now I get to celebrate with gifts and such! But before then? I would celebrate with either doing homework (yay) or talking and exchanging stories with my single friends.
And what struck me most were the tones of their voices. I was single by choice, mostly — I wasn’t really the romantic type, to be completely honest… and even that is probably a huge understatement.
But for them, Valentine’s Day was a day that stung terribly.
It made them feel shame for who they were now and for what they had done in the past.
It made them feel completely and utterly unloved and unworthy of love.
It sent them into the darkest pits of despair.
And so, for Valentine’s Day, I would like to feature this artwork:
It is a picture (by Valentin de Boulogne!) depicting the scene of the Christ and the Adulteress. For those who might have forgotten that story, here it is!
2But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. 4They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. 7 But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. 10Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.”]
In this artwork, Jesus looks up from writing on the ground, His eyes on the face of the woman who was caught in adultery. He looks at her, His eyes wide open and full of understanding. In another moment, He will stand up and save her life.
As far as the adulterous woman? She hangs her head down, unwilling to look at Jesus, the man who has been chosen to condemn her to death. Her hands are dirty, her shoulders have been stripped bare, and a thousand thoughts probably cross her mind as she faces her imminent death.
They are the only two people in this painting who do not seem to be moving. Everybody else is in a flurry of movement!
Behind Jesus in blue and gold with his head bare, St. Peter stares at Jesus, his face full of curiosity and a bit of dread. He seems very aware that this is a trap and thus his eyes bulge out and his hands clutch at his garment in anticipation to see Jesus make the next move.
Then, standing next to St. Peter are two men — one a scribe and one an onlooker — looking oddly smug about the entire situation. The onlooker has a satisfied look on his face as he looks at Jesus. No doubt, he expects to know how this will end. Then the scribe holds his glasses to his face, as if he can’t wait to see what will happen next. Both of them probably expect to stone the woman in just a couple of moments.
And then the soldiers who are holding onto the woman and pushing her forward! Whereas the other men seem to be more interested in Jesus, these men seem more interested in the woman. Though they regard Jesus, their eyes drift to the woman while their lips seem to curl in a predatory way. They expect blood any moment.
A dramatic scene, don’t you think?
Which brings us to the more important points…
Jesus doesn’t turn His face from us. He looks us straight in the face, even in the midst of the most difficult moments in our lives when we can barely even lift up our head because of shame. He understands us in ways that we can’t even comprehend. And He calls us back to Him always to return to Him and follow Him, no matter how far we have drifted away from Him.
Nor does Jesus come to condemn and destroy us. He comes to save. In this particular case, He saves the woman who is entrusted to Him. And He comes to save us, as long as we are willing to entrust ourselves to Him and follow after Him.
Nor does it matter how many sins and missteps and mistakes we’ve made in our lives. Jesus is willing to save us anyway. This woman committed adultery — a mortal sin! It’s one of the sins in the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not commit adultery. That is bad! And yet, Jesus is still willing to forgive her, telling her to sin no more — in other words, He calls her to follow His life that is without sin.
The despair and shame that the woman feels is not from Christ, but rather from the world, symbolized by the men that surround her. The world is willing to throw her under the bus, to destroy her. Once she is dead, she cannot repent, she cannot change, she cannot learn to walk with God again.
Once she is dead, there is no hope.
And yet, with Jesus Christ, her life is changed extraordinarily. He saves her life, not just in the physical sense in which she is preserved from bodily harm, but in the spiritual sense as well: He offers her the chance to be loosed from the sins that condemn and haunt her by telling her to sin no more.
Another chance! Hallelujah!
And so, we should remember that there is nothing that Jesus can’t save us from. Nothing. And His love for us, even though we may be miserable sinners, is greater than we will ever know.
Jesus loves you.
May we cling to this love always!