Summary: The Stone that the builders rejected has become the head of the corner ...
I must admit that I was drawn to this passage this morning because it had a refreshingly urban feel about it.
If you’re familiar with the parables and metaphors used by Jesus, you know that He often spoke using rural images - speaking of shepherds and sheep and fields and harvests. And you could see the farmers in Jesus’ audience would have been nodding along to a lot of that. Well, today we’ve got one for the tradies!
The brick that the builders rejected has become the head of the corner!
The context of this statement, as we heard it this morning, was in a speech made by Peter, who was defending himself in an interrogation by the local authorities, who were asking him how it was that he and his buddy John had apparently healed a man who had been previously unable to walk all his life.
As had been the case in so many of Jesus’ healings, the miracle that had taken place did not result in people celebrating and giving thanks, but rather in people feeling threatened and wanting reassurance that nothing in their little world was going to change. Rather than placate his questioners though, Peter goes on the attack, and says to the whole assembled group of ecclesiastical thought police:
"if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead - by him this man is standing before you well!” (Act 4:8-10)
And then he adds: “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.”
Now, if you’re a student of the New Testament, you‘ll know that this saying also turns up in other places. It was indeed used by Jesus Himself at the conclusion of a story He told about a vineyard with some violent tenants (Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17) and if you push back even further, you’ll find that Jesus Himself was quoting, from Psalm 118 (verse 22):
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.”
The statement also turns up again later in the New Testament, in Peter’s first letter, which makes it certainly one of the most often repeated texts in the whole of the Scriptures!
Why is this saying so significant, and what does it mean?
Now if you’re not a tradie, or more specifically a brick-layer, the metaphor may require some explanation.
I’m not a brick-layer either of course, but I’ve had plenty of friends who have been brick-layers. Apart from students, the most popular occupations amongst members of my fight club over the last 15 years have been mechanics and builders, including a number of brick-layers, which leaves me in a reasonably good position, I think, to comment on the significance of the cornerstone, and also on why such a stone might be rejected by builders.
To comment first on the significance of the cornerstone or ‘capstone’, this is not simply a decorative stone used to finish off the corners of a building with a bit of architectural flair - the stone-masons equivalent of the angel that sits on top of the Christmas tree. No, rather it is that fundamental stone that structurally holds the entire building together!
If you’ve ever seen an old Roman archway, you know what I’m talking about. If you can envisage an archway, built from two columns of carefully carved stones, where the two sides arch in towards each other at the top and meet in the centre, there’s a triangular shaped stone that sits in the middle and balances the two sides of the arch against each other. That is the capstone.
This is how the Romans built their arches - not like the arches of Stonehenge or the Arch de Triumph (ie. two vertical columns with a slab across the top). The Roman arches arched and met in the middle at a capstone. And if you removed that stone, the whole thing would fall to pieces.
The Gladesville bridge is built that way - along the lines of the old Roman model. If you’ve ever wondered why there are no suspension cables on the Gladesville bridge, well … now you know. It’s built with carefully carved stones angling in towards each other, and in the centre there is a cornerstone that holds both sides of the bridge in place. If you were able to remove that stone, the entire structure would fall into the sea, as neither half would have anything to support it!