The last-place several weeks have been a whirlwind of the actions of our message reads. After Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem and purging of the Temple( which we strangely skipped over ), he has entered the locus of superpower and engages in direct schism with those who would disavow his authority as the son of God. This is the climax of the Gospel of Matthew, in terms of setting the final chain of events into motion, until we finally get to the Passion Narrative in later chapters.
And so this Sunday, we get the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, and the thoughtfulnes about rejected cornerstones. As I was looking for an image for our adore bulletin for this coming Sunday, I learned that the “chief builders” Jesus cited in his snippet from Isaiah weren’t the only ones confused about suitable cornerstones. I received epitomes from schools that supposedly named all kinds of things the “cornerstone”–but instead imaging capstones on the meridians of walls and keystones at the apex of bridges.
Now, I am no architectural expert–but a childhood inspired by the cartoon genius of Chuck Jones coached me what a cornerstone is–besides adding in the delusion of meet a ragtime-singing frog inside of one. Jesus tells us that the political and religious leaders of Jesus’s time, despite their stature for being learned and wise, were just as confused when looking for the cornerstone.
Unlike the capstone or the keystone, the cornerstone was not among the last stones sat. It was the first. It “mustve been” targeted just so, so that the walls would be straight. The alignment of the whole structure was determined by the cornerstone. The selection and direction of a cornerstone affected the unity of the entire building.
Jesus points out that a better quality the religious leaders are looking for in a cornerstone cause them to reject the planned stone for one that conforms to their own preconceived notions and preconceptions. The proposed stone instead becomes something over which they will trip and come to ruin upon. And this is not the first time a cornerstone and a stumbling block have been linked together–earlier in Matthew, Jesus renames Simon as Peter and swears he is likely to be the cornerstone of a brand-new group of followers. Yet a second later, Peter gets into a disagreement with Jesus, and Jesus rebukes him, alarming Peter not to become a stumbling block to others.
Jesus’s claim to be the cornerstone is meant to remind us that we are being called to be new formations in Christ–opposed to the direction and direction of a religious AND political structures, then and now, that often seek to exclude very include, that fraction as a means of power and prestige rather than seeks to unite people of all persuasions and to the glory of God. And after watching the events of the last couple of days, I wonder if anything has changed that much 2000 years after Jesus’s use of this original metaphor.
So how can we understand this metaphor for our situation now, in 21 st century America in particular? Perhaps by considering this story as being about the struggle for integrity and permission, extremely against the struggled normalization of falsity, ruthlessness, and selfishness as the markers of an orientation toward “success.” To remember that aligning ourselves with Jesus as our cornerstone implies aligning ourselves with the capability of shalom- wholeness, peacefulnes, accordance, completeness, enthralling in the welfare of others as the foundation of justice.
Making Jesus our cornerstone as his disciples makes literal adjustment with the values of the empire of God. How do we respond to God’s claims upon “peoples lives”? Do we order ourselves up according to God’s significances of justice, forbearance, and unity? Do we pay our share of the splendor to God by working for the betterment of national societies that we, in our opennes, have constructed? Do we were attempting to start the building and walls stronger? Or do we adopt the adjustment of dominion with suffering for the many for the benefit of the few, and thus become a stumbling block for those whose exclusively understanding of God is through our own words and actions? Such a thing would be a true scandal–a word in Biblical Greek often associated with the concept of the stumbling block.
I am struck by the incongruity every morning as I cry the Venite at the start of Morning Prayer: we affirm that the Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, and invite each other to bend our knee in submission and deference. Yet at the same time we are a disaffected, fractious beings, who take great pride in never submitting before anyone in heaven or on Earth.
It’s enough to make one despair. We are called to counteract the regrets of all countries of the world , not surrender to them. But then, like Wendell Berry, in his beautiful poem, “The Peace of Wild Things, ” I remember that “I rest in the prayer of all countries of the world, and am free.” Free to choose a better cornerstone for my life, and the life of my loved ones. Free to remember that “loved ones” includes not just my family or my tribe, but announces me to open that circle wide to encompass all living thing around me.
Yes, “were having” hope–because there are mighty hits appearing in the walls and structures of the conglomerate of despise, inequality, and using. As our Presiding Bishop persistently reminds us, There IS a cream in Gilead, and it calls us to heal the meanders and build again in faith, upon the cornerstone of the Lord of Life and Love.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a clergyman in the Diocese of Missouri. She is rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She announces daily prayers, meditations, and lectures at her blog Abiding In Hope, and musters spiritual writings and portraits at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.
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