If you are not in the construction industry, you may not know the purpose of a cornerstone. The cornerstone is the first stone that that a builder sets with a new structure. That particular stone will have a unique role of becoming the foundational reference point for all of the other stones in the building. So, when the architect identifies and marks a stone as the chief cornerstone; that becomes the central element from which all other stones take their proper alignment. Everything will find its direction in relationship to that one stone–everything.
Now, let’s reconsider the power proverb from yesterday’s post on Royal Stones,
The stone that the builders rejected, has become the chief cornerstone. –Psalm 118:8
Interestingly, when Jesus arrived at the Temple in Jerusalem, he quoted this ancient proverb in the midst of a verbal confrontation with the Jewish leadership of that day. A heated exchange between Jesus, the chief priests, scribes and other religious leaders broke out. They gathered around Jesus and plotted and schemed against him, trying to trap him by peppering him with very hostile questions. In the context of that exchange, Jesus tells a little story–a story about tenants and a vineyard–and a stone.
The Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46)
“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet. Then Jesus quotes a proverb. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” Now, all of those chief priests and scribes, they were listening to Jesus telling this story, and they got the message. They said to themselves, “He’s telling this story about us!”
Why was Jesus making this application? Understand that God had entrusted to the leaders of Israel, in that day, with stewardship of his creation, stewardship of his cities, stewardship of leading his people. The leaders were the tenants, Israel was the Lord’s vineyard and the Lord is the owner. The LORD had sent prophet after prophet after prophet to these leaders of Israel. And yet, how did they respond? They stoned every one of them. John the Baptist was the last one (beheaded by Israel’s reigning king Herod Antipas).
God as the owner of the vineyard said, “I’ll send my son, and surely they’ll listen to my son,” but instead they plotted his arrest and murder. Ultimately, they would see him crucified him between two thieves. The tenants rejected the owners son. But wait! There is good news in the story from the owner of the vineyard: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone!” Now there is an interesting little play on the words that you would not catch unless you spoke Aramaic–the language of Jesus.
The story would originally have been told in Aramaic, not the Greek of the Gospel writers. Here is the interesting thing: The word for “stone” in Aramaic is the Aramaic word eben. The word for “son” in Aramaic is ben. The tenants rejection of the son is equivalent to the builders rejection of the stone. When you reject the stone, the eben, you reject the ben, the Son.
Here is the good news! God has taken the Son/Stone that was rejected by the builders and made It/Him the Chief Cornerstone. “This is the Lord’s doing,” the psalmist says, “and it is marvelous in our eyes!”
But, what exactly did the Lord do that is so visibly marvelous?