Thursday, February 14, 2013

Jesus as the Cornerstone

In 1 Peter 2:7 you come across an interesting reference: "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone".  This passage, along with Matthew 21:42 refers back to Psalm 118:22.  But none of these three passages help in understanding this obscure reference to a rejected stone that became a cornerstone.  When did this happen?  Who were the builders?  Why did they mistake, and reject, the cornerstone?

Years ago I heard of a legend that was supposed to provide answers to these questions and I have recently run across it again.  The problem is that the only source I can find for this story is that it is an old rabbinic parable.  But no reference to where this parable might be found in any ancient literature.  Many people seem to quote it, but no one seems to know where it came from; so it may or may not have any validity.  None-the less, here is the parable.
When Solomon’s temple was being built, it was forbidden for the sound of hammers to be heard at the job site because it was a holy place of worship.  You can’t have worship with construction going on in the background!  So it had to be quiet.  What this meant for the construction was that each and every 20 ton stone had to have a ‘shop drawing’ and was made several miles away in the quarry.  Several miles away each stone was carefully cut for its exact spot in the temple.  From the very start, there was a plan for each stone.  The very first stone to be delivered was the capstone, but that’s the last stone needed in construction.  So the builders said, “What is this?  This doesn’t look like any of the first stones we need.  Put it over there for now.”  Well, years went by and the grass grew over the capstone and everyone generally forgot about it.  Finally the construction was done and the builders said “send us the capstone” and the word came back from the quarry “we already did”.  They were confused.  Then someone remembered what they had done with the very first stone sent to them.  It was taken from its lowly position among the overgrown weeds where it had been forgotten, and it was honored in the final ceremony to complete the temple.  Thus the scripture says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.”
While this story might well have been invented as an attempt to explain the Psalm 118:22 passage, or the later passages from the New Testament, it does at least give us some idea of what could be meant by this reference and its New Testament application to Jesus.

The cornerstone is mostly a ceremonial block placed in a structure today, but at one time it was a critical component in the structure.  The cornerstone is laid first, and the rest of the foundation for the building is aligned with the cornerstone.  It is in that sense that we see Jesus identified as the cornerstone.  He is the key to the temple that is built on the apostles and prophets, with us as the materials built onto that foundation.  That temple is aligned with him and is built up around him.

In contrast to the cornerstone is the capstone, the stone from the rabbinic parable.  While the cornerstone is the first set and provides alignment for the rest of the structure, the capstone is among the last stone(s) set.  Sometimes it is ceremonial, sometimes it provides weather protection for the rest of the structure, and other times it is like a key that helps hold the structure together.  I suspect the inclusion of the capstone in this rabbinic parable was more a case of mistaken identity than anything else.

But whether capstone or cornerstone, the important thing in this passage is that this stone, rejected by the builders, has become the key part of the building.  The New Testament references make clear that Jesus is this cornerstone that was rejected.  The structure being built, according to Ephesians, was a holy temple to the Lord; the Church.

Throughout history many religions have been built around various individuals and concepts.  And the structures they have produced have always been flawed.  Only when Jesus is the cornerstone will the building be straight and true.  Only then will it rise to become a holy temple to the Lord.

What is your life built around?  What is the cornerstone of the church you are a part of?  If the answer is not Jesus, then you are heading in the wrong direction.  Align your life, and your relationship with God, around Jesus as the cornerstone.  If he is your cornerstone, you have no reason to be ashamed.  If he is not, then you are stumbling around in the dark.

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