By all accounts, the first to ask the musical version of the question was Bo Diddley in 1956.
Ronnie Hawkins sang/asked it again in 1963, followed by Quicksilver Messenger Service in 1969, and then George Thorogood in 1984 and probably many others since then.
And so as we approach the annual celebration of the life of the saint who was brutally martyred for his steadfast allegiance to Christ, I have no doubt that armies of romantic hopefuls of all ages will be asking themselves that very same question: WHO DO YOU LOVE?
Or maybe it’s a slightly different, but related question: who should you love?
And because we live in a time that finds us awash in social media outlets to help us answer this type of intimate, personal question, starry-eyed dreamers will discover they have an endless array of helpful tips for answering “the love question”:
- “Find someone who makes you laugh.”
- “Find someone with a good job.”
- “Find someone who shares common passions and interests.”
- “Find someone who complements your areas of strength and weakness.”
- “Find someone who would make a good parent to your children.”
- “Find someone whose zodiac chart is compatible with yours.” (if you’re into that kind of thing.)
… and so on and so on.
All good, sound advice to be sure.
All – however – wildly at odds with the answer you would get if you were to ask Jesus the same question.
As luck would have it, we have an actual, written transcript of Jesus’ answer to the love question right here in Matthew 5: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?” (Matt. 5:43-47, NRSV)
Wait… what? Run that one by me again…
You’re telling me I’m supposed to love people who disagree with me?
You want me to love people who don’t share the same beliefs or outlooks that I do?
You’re saying I’m supposed to love people that I frankly find annoying as heck?
You mean love those who might even be actively trying to hurt me in some way? Love people who smell bad… who are addicted to a harmful substance… who don’t even make an effort… who totally lack social skills… who look and talk and dress and love and smell different than I do?
You do realize of course that all of this flies in the face of volumes of the compatibility research that urges me to reserve my love for the people I align most closely with, right?
“Yep,” Jesus says. “I sure do.”
And how exactly do you expect this to work… given my innate desire for harmony and homogeneity in all my relationships… and the fact that because of my education and mobility I can be very selective about the people I associate with?
Jesus doesn’t say anything right away in answer to my question. He just goes over to where the scroll of the prophet Isaiah is kept, takes it down, unrolls it and finds the exact passage he is looking for.
“Here’s how,” he says, and points to the words of chapter 41, verse 13: “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’”
Then he says, “Happy Valentine’s Day.”