It’s Valentine’s Day, a day full of symbols of love. The usual ones, of course, include hearts and flowers, little cupids and those flirty candy hearts with sayings such as “U R Hot” on them.
But if you were in Rome today, you’d be doing your Valentine’s Day shopping at the hardware store, not the Hallmark store.
The New York Times recently ran an article about a new romantic ritual in Rome inspired by Federico Moccia’s recent book, Ho Voglio di Te (I Want You), and its extremely popular movie adaptation. In the book, a young man wins the heart of a woman by taking her to Rome’s Ponte Milvio (or Milvian Bridge), wrapping a lock and chain symbolic of their love around a light post, and throwing the key into the Tiber River.
The invented ritual quickly caught on and young people from across Italy flocked to one of Rome’s oldest bridges to memorialize their own love with a padlock and a thrown-away key. In fact, so many locks appeared on the Ponte Milvio, that their weight caused a light post to collapse, inducing city officials to install steel posts with chains on which locks can be attached without causing damage to the ancient bridge. Such is love in Rome these days!
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Over the weekend we learned about love in Iraq. Our guests were our new refugee friends from Iraq, Ziyad and Ghadah, who explained to us that their marriage was arranged by their parents. Ziyad is very much in favor of arranged marriages, explaining that parents love their children and want the very best for them, and sometimes the parents make better decisions that young lovers do. That’s hard to argue with. Some of the parents in the room wanted to pick their children’s spouses too.
It was a very traditional courtship. Ziyad did not speak to Ghadah alone until after they were engaged. And Ghadah wore a hijab, which is a headscarf worn by Muslim women, sometimes including a veil that covers the face except for the eyes. Some Muslim women wear a burqa, which is a loose, usually black or light blue robe that covers the body from head to toe. I think all of us were fascinated by these veils worn by the women.
The Muslim women quickly pointed out that veils were common in many societies. Catholic nuns wear a habit, which is not far different from the clothing worn by Muslim women. Brides in America frequently wear veils at their weddings. A few years ago, when American women wore hats more frequently, the hats often featured veils. Our friends suggested that back in the day when American women all wore hats to church, it was a matter of modesty and honor for them, just as it is for Muslim women to wear their particular kind of veils.
One of our Muslim guests said that she wore a hijab when she came to the states, and a woman came up to her and said, “Listen, honey, you don’t have to wear that anymore because you are in America now!” But Ghadah and the other Muslim women explained to us that wearing these veils was not a dishonor, but rather an honor. It fulfilled the Islamic requirement of modesty, but it was also a way of saving their beauty for their husband. She said it was like having a beautiful diamond that you didn’t show everybody, but saved it for only special people to see.
After all this talk about Muslim veils, I was surprised when I looked closely at our text for today and discovered that Paul mentions veils in this text five times! The idea of the veil is at the heart of our text.
But Paul is not referring to bridal veils, birdcage hat veils or a burqa. He is referring to the veil worn by Moses as mentioned in Exodus 34. Did you remember that Moses wore a veil?
According to Exodus, Moses served as a kind of go-between for God and the people of Israel. He would climb the mountain to speak to God. There he did not see God, but saw the glory of God. Exodus 34:29-30 says, “It happened, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mountain, that Moses didn’t know that the skin of his face shone by reason of his speaking with him. When Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come near him.”
Then verse 33 says, “When Moses was done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face…”
Biblical scholars say that it is very difficult to determine the real purpose and function of this veil that Moses wore. The word translated “shine” derives from the word for “horn,” and some say it may have been a shaft of light not unlike a horn. Of course, Michelangelo famously picked up on the word “horn” when he made the statue of Moses at the Basilica of St Peter in Chains in Rome. In Michelangelo’s statue, Moses clearly has horns!
If there is confusion about the word “shine,” there is also confusion about the word “veil,” for it is not used anywhere else in the Old Testament.
In typical rabbinical fashion, Paul picks up this obscure reference from Exodus to make a point about the superiority of Jesus. In doing so, Paul makes reference to a Jewish legend about Moses. The rabbis said that Moses may have kept wearing the veil long after his face quit shining. Perhaps Moses wanted the people to think he still reflected the glory of God, when that glory had in fact worn off. So Paul writes in verse 13, “…not as Moses, who put a veil on his face, that the children of Israel wouldn’t look steadfastly on the end of that which was passing away.”
Like many of the writers of the New Testament, Paul wanted to show in every way possible the superiority of Jesus Christ. In our passage today, he turns the veil imagery to make the point of the superiority of Christ.
He says that the people of Israel read the old covenant with a veil that keeps them from understanding Jesus. Verses 14 and 15 say, “But their minds were hardened, for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains, because in Christ it passes away. But to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart…”
Paul adds, “…But whenever one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” And then he says, “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
As we studied the Islamic faith last weekend, I could not help but stumble upon their doctrine of the superiority of Mohammed. They made clear to us that they revered the Bible. They accept Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus as prophets of God. They, of course, do not accept Jesus as God’s son or even his death on the cross and resurrection.
But their clear teaching is that Mohammed was the final revelation of God, superseding the teachings of all who had gone before him. Their key word of affirmation is that Allah is God, and Mohammed is his prophet. I think it is fair to say they believe Jesus is a prophet, but Mohammed is THE prophet. For them, Mohammed and the Quran is the final revelation of God.
I could not help but be reminded of the similar doctrine of the Mormons. They believe that Joseph Smith received the final revelation of God. In a very similar way to Mohammed, they believe that God dictated to Joseph Smith the Book of Mormon.
This interfaith dialogue raises questions for Christians. Some people phrase the question in terms of who will go to heaven and who will go to hell. Most Disciples of Christ that I know avoid that particular question by rightly saying that it is strictly God’s decision about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Our opinions don’t really count at the Last Judgment.
But I want to caution you against saying that all religions are the same. It may be true that we are all trying to get to the same place; we are trying to know the same God. But it is not true, that one way is just as good as another. It is not true that all religions are equal. We can believe that if we want to, but I want to argue that you will have to overlook or tear out whole pages in the New Testament if you want to believe that.
Our Sheikh friends, our Buddhist friends, our Muslim friends, our Jewish friends are fine people. They, no doubt, are sincere in their faith. We should respect them and their faith. There is much good in all their faiths. And we can learn some things from any of them. They are no doubt drawn to God in positive ways.
One of the verses that encourages me about people of other faiths is Acts 10:34 where Peter proclaims, “Truly I perceive that God doesn’t show favoritism; but in every nation he who fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” I am very hopeful that God is generous with people who fear God and do what is right. What God does is God’s choice, and I don’t particularly want to become an authority on who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.
But make no mistake about it. The Bible clearly teaches the superiority of Jesus Christ. For Paul, belief in Jesus was not one religion among equals. Paul makes clear that the people of Israel are a special people, but they see through a veil darkly. He says it is only in Jesus that the veil is lifted, that freedom really comes.
The Gospel of John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it…. For the law was given through Moses. Grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:1-5, 17).
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.”
Peter in the book of Acts says, “There is salvation in none other, for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, by which we must be saved!” (Acts 4:12).
In Colossians Paul writes that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 1:16 For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him” (Colossians 1:15-16).
Paul goes on to say, “For all the fullness was pleased to dwell in him; 1:20 and through him to reconcile all things to himself, by him, whether things on the earth, or things in the heavens, having made peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).
And then he says, “For in him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9).
The writer of Hebrews says, “God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds. His Son is the radiance of his glory, the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself made purification for our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become so much better than the angels, as he has inherited a more excellent name than they have” (Hebrews 1:1-4).
I think about those young couples on the bridge in Rome with their lock in hand. Though hardware imagery may not be as romantic as flowers and rings, there is a wonderful message there. Two people stand that to make an incredible commitment to one another. They are saying that they are locked together in love. They have no intention of there ever being another love like that. They lock themselves to one another and throw away the key.
I want to suggest to you that that is what Christians have done with Jesus. Christians by definition celebrate the love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Like those romantic couples on the bridge in Rome, we have chosen to love God through the one person – Jesus. We have locked our faith to God through him and thrown away the key.
Jesus Christ is superior to Moses. Jesus is superior to angels. Jesus Christ is superior to Mohammed. Jesus Christ is superior to Buddha. Jesus Christ is superior to Joseph Smith. We are called Christians because we believe that Jesus Christ is the clearest, fullest and in many ways the final revelation of God. We have locked our faith in him and thrown away the key!
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2010, Mickey Anders. Used by permission.