Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 21:42
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is wonderful in our eyes’?

            Two weeks ago I said ‘here is a clear parable’; but today I think, this one’s a bit hard. And yet the Holy Spirit has preserved this word for us, for you today, so what might it mean?

            Are you to relate to the Pharisees in charge of the teaching of God’s Word and the care of His people? We can ask, How well do we listen to the messengers He sends to receive the fruits? Those needy people in our congregation, our families, and our community? Is there at the end utter destruction for those who failure to care for each other and those with less? Perhaps this is why the Holy Spirit has brought this Word to us today to condemn our failures (Matthew 25:31-46).

            Or maybe it’s just to let you know to role of the pastor, the carer or healer of souls. That I, and the other pastors and bishops, are to point you always to Christ for the sake of healing your conscience, saving your soul. And if I fail … gone! Just as the Lord revealed to the prophet Ezekiel (3:16-27). So, a condemnation to sinful pastors.

            Could it be another parable of the kingdom? After all, since Pentecost we have been hearing and remembering our history of the church, of who we are and what we do. And Jesus Himself says, the kingdom of God will be taken from the Pharisees and given to a nation producing its fruits. So this vineyard, this walled garden, ‘paradise’ in Persian, is taken from the Jews who rejected it and given to Christ’s church. The holy nation of both Jew and Gentile (1 Peter 2:9). Condemning the Pharisees rejecting the faith, yet I wonder, what is Jesus saying about a stone?

            I’ve had to grapple a bit with this so I invite you into the wrestle. After the Pharisees give their answer, an easy and understandable one, Jesus doesn’t really affirm it, rather instead points to scripture. ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone, the Lord has done this and it is wonderful in our eyes’. But where was this stone in the parable? Who was rejected to become the place where two walls originate and join? I suppose yeah, the servants were killed, but chiefly it was the landowner’s son who was rejected. He should have been respected but instead was despised and killed. Just as Jesus was rejected and despised, arrested, thrown out of the city, and crucified. But now He tells them, and us, that the one rejected will be made the most important stone, on which all is centred and all comes from, for the corner stone, as far as I understand, is placed first then the measuring and construction begins from it. This then would be a clear statement, a promise that though the Pharisees will reject and kill Jesus, God the Father will make Him the origin of a new construction, or the New Creation we hear of elsewhere, and for us particularly the new creation in our baptism into Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). So, may Jesus be using this parable to show the sin of the Pharisees, the situation they find themselves, and then that He fulfills the promise God gave through Isaiah and the Psalms, just as Peter later explains, and this truth is wonderful in our eyes (Isaiah 8:14; 28:16; Psalm 118:22-24; 1 Peter 2:1-12).

            But He says something else about a stone, those who fall on it shattered, those it falls on crushed; those who can’t swallow the truth of Christ, who stumble at it will be shattered and when Christ comes in judgement they will be utterly crushed. Lord have mercy on those people, and on us too. Clearly Christ is no less harsh in the Old Testament than the New, all is the Word of God. And the care of God’s Word to His ancient people in that Law has been taken from the Pharisees and given to us, a nation producing it’s fruits; those words that tell us the Lord our God is a zealous God, punishing the children to the third or fourth generation of those who hate Him (Exodus 20:5). Yet the Law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul, making wise the fool, giving joy, light, and far more precious than gold, as we have just confessed in today’s psalm (Psalm 19:7-10). The Law, the ten Commandments, those words that many think of as a burden, we confess as refreshing the soul. The stone that crushes those it falls on, is wonderful in our eyes. Why? Why is it good news that the Pharisees who rejected Jesus are themselves rejected? Why is it Good News to hear these Words from God before confession, to reflect on how you have relied and sought help from other things before God, have neglected the gift of God’s name in failing to live up to it or pray for those who need it, have even rejected the holy things of God in favour of work and busyness? How can this revelation of truth, this condemnation of your failure and sin be a good thing? A wonderful thing?

            Paul tells us. Whatever good I thought I had done, like those Pharisees, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. Compared with knowing the wonder of Jesus Christ our Lord, everything else is filth, rubbish, a word starting with s … Just as God’s Law reveals about what the world thinks is a good life. But to be found in Jesus, part of the New Creation, the paradisal vineyard of God’s people, the living temple built around this wonderous cornerstone, not having a righteousness of my own, not measured by my sin rather justified and measured from the cornerstone, receiving the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. This Jesus who was rejected has become the foundation and origin of something new. And you have been joined to Him in baptism, your old, condemned, self crushed by the stone, now created anew into Christ’s body. The holy things of God, represented as a vineyard under care, have been given to the care of this New Creation. God’s people are now defined and find our source in Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone. And this is the wonderful thing! That God cares for you, He wants the best for you and that is to be fitted next to Christ, conformed to Him as we heard Paul write weeks ago (Romans 8:29). To be joined together with Him as His church. To live for each other, to the glory of God and the good of those around us.

            The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and to life everlasting. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.