“You were Romeo, I was a scarlet letter…” The lyrics of “Love Story” by Taylor Swift refer back to two classic literary tales. Shakespeare’s Tragedy meets Nathaniel Hawthorne in country music. Or something like that. Having just recently read The Scarlet Letter, I found this allusion to the ignominious scarlet letter within Taylor Swift’s song quite interesting.
For those of you who have never read The Scarlet Letter, the protagonist of the tale is a young woman’s whose child’s birth revealed that she had engaged in an adulterous relationship. Set in Puritan New England, the proper sentence for such behavior was death, but under a rare stroke of mercy, both the woman and her child were allowed to live, though Hester would forever have to wear a scarlet letter on her clothing to signify her sin. Such a mark set her apart from society as one who was unclean.
Reaching beyond the world of country music and classical fiction, a greater piece of classic literature, the Holy Scripture itself, also speaks of a scarlet letter. Luke 18 tells the story of another woman whose lifelong issue of blood required her to proclaim the words, “Unclean! Unclean!” wherever she went, alienating her from society. Rejected by everyone, this woman came to Christ full of fear, yet also full of faith. In the hope of being healed, she took the courage to reach out and touch the edge of his garments. At that moment, she was healed not only physically, but spiritually, as Jesus Christ turned to acknowledge her and love her as those around her could not.
Both of these women were labeled as unclean and unworthy of positive interaction with society. By walking through town, the only acknowledgement they received was a cold shoulder and complete animosity. Yet how different are we? Scripture clearly states that all men have sinned, and that even our righteousness is unclean in the eyes of the Holy God. When we enter the courts of heaven, there is not a one of us who does not have a scarlet letter proclaiming our uncleanness. It would be only expected that a perfectly righteous God turn a cold shoulder and refuse even to look upon the sinfulness of our hearts. Oh, but how I must praise the Lord that he has shown us mercy and grace. For it is not rejection that we have received, but rather full payment for our uncleanness and sin in the blood and death of the one and only Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord.
I know I often forget that in my sin, I too am a scarlet letter. In my pride, I believe that I am above the moral debauchery that our culture so widely accepts, yet am blind to the very pride which God says he hates. It is not that one sin is greater than another, or that my lying is less dishonoring to God than my neighbor’s stealing. The fact is, I am unclean. I am a sinner. But though I am a great sinner, my God is a great Savior who has taken the shame of my scarlet letter upon himself, has borne the rejection, and has paid the price to declare me clean and whole before a holy and just God. Blessed be his name forever and ever!