Summary: The cornerstone in biblical times was the first and most important stone laid in the foundation or the top and key supporting stone in an arch. In either case, it was the most important part of the structure.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen. (Psalm 19:14)
The Pharisees were often confused by Jesus’ parables, but this one got through pretty clearly to them. The image of the prophets being killed by Israel’s previous leaders and that’s God will punish Israel’s leaders was insulting enough to them, but the statement that the vineyard would be given to others, or that the Kingdom of God would be opened to the Gentiles, was more than the Pharisees could stand. As the text says, “they wanted to lay hands on him.”
This particular “laying on of hands” is not the same as the laying on of hands we do at healing services and ordinations. There is obviously a more sinister purpose in mind, and it comes to fruition a bit later in Luke’s Gospel on Good Friday.
The last straw for the Pharisees came as Jesus mentioned the cornerstone. It’s just one short statement compared to the rest of the Gospel reading, but it is a very important Old Testament link with powerful imagery concerning salvation.
One of the greatest difficulties we face today as Christians is that we are biblically illiterate compared to the people of Jesus’ time, and compared to Muslims today.
Children in 1st-century Israel had the first five books of the Old Testament memorized by age 10. Many Christians today can’t even name the first five books of the Old Testament.
Muslim children today in the Middle East and elsewhere are taught in school to memorize the Koran at an early age. Christian children today in the United States who even mention the Bible, or Jesus, in school often face suspension or other punishment.
When we hear the words of Jesus in the Gospels we often think Jesus has just given his listeners some new and wonderful message. But Jesus’ listeners recognized him foremost as a rabbi who really knew his Bible.
It amazes me that some people will say they believe Jesus was a great moral teacher, but that they don’t believe in the Bible, while almost everything that Jesus is recorded as saying comes initially from the Old Testament. Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah from the about 750 B.C., who was also referencing Psalm 118 from around 1,000 B.C.
I’d like to share the context Jesus provided in his statement, through those particular Old Testament. In Psalm 118 (20-23), we read:
“This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter. I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
In Isaiah, Chapter 8 (13-15), the prophet says:
“The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured.”
And later, in Chapter 28 (15-17), Isaiah says:
You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death, with the grave we have made an agreement. When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place.”
So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place.”
So you can see why the Pharisees were a bit miffed. They knew the penalty for rejecting God’s cornerstone because they also knew the scriptures. For Jesus to be declaring himself as the cornerstone that is being rejected must have had steam shooting out of their ears. Not only was Jesus claiming to be the foundation of all human salvation, he was also telling the Pharisees that they wouldn’t be getting any of it.
The cornerstone in biblical times was the first and most important stone laid in the foundation or the top and key supporting stone in an arch. In either case, it was the most important part of the structure.