(Jesus) looked at them and said, “What then does this text mean: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour (Luke 20:17-19, NRSV)
Indeed, what DID Jesus mean? He got the religious bigwigs pretty angry at Him, and had they been able to seize and kill Him at that time, they certainly would have. Nor did they ever forgive Him. They waited grimly for their chance to get Him out of their way until, at long last, they had it.
The followers of Christ have always understood Him to be speaking, here, of Himself. Jesus is the stone – rejected by the builders – who became the Cornerstone. And, as the Psalm He was quoting tells us, “This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:23)
To say that Jesus was rejected by the builders – the religious leaders – is an understatement. He was tried and convicted for blasphemy, rejected for “having made Himself a king,” driven outside of the holy city of Jerusalem with whips and scourges and nailed to a wooden cross. As He died there, He was reviled as a criminal and worse. As some of His last words make clear, He Himself felt as if He had been forsaken by God (Matthew 27:46).
Jesus had the last word, however, that first Easter Sunday. And for twenty centuries, those who have placed their faith in Him have built upon that Cornerstone – rejected by the builders, but marvelous not only in the eyes of the psalmist, but in the heart of God.
Modern Christian scholars are, it seems to me, far too willing to dismiss “the builders” of whom Jesus spoke as a bunch of dead Jews. Not only does this interpretation smack of anti-Semitism, but it reeks of a vanity and triumphalism that ill becomes those who rest their faith on a formerly-rejected Cornerstone. To put it more simply and bluntly, they’re missing the point.
Had all corrupt and narcissistic religious leaders died along with those First- Century scribes and priests, there would be no reason to read about them, today, as anything but relics from a dusty and distant past. Does merely “calling upon the Name of Jesus,” as so many religious leaders in the centuries since have done (and still do today), serve as evidence of a Cornerstone foundation? Or does Christ’s warning to His adversaries serve, as well, as a warning to the religious leaders of contemporary times?
Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians can well identify with the plight of the rejected cornerstone. We, too, have been rejected by “the builders” – cast aside, outside the walls of the holy city, neglected, rejected and reviled. When I read of the cornerstone – mentioned, actually, several times in Scripture – the story resonates with me in a special way.
Religious conservatives have had to cast aside some pretty important concepts – crucial concepts – in order to continue their blanket condemnation of “homosexuality.” For example, Christianity has never believed that one’s gender, or that the way one loves, is more important than one’s humanity. To suggest that anything that separates us – be it gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or whatever else – is more important to who we are than the humanity we all share in common is nothing sort of heresy. No human being is more valuable, or has more rights, than any other human being. To believe otherwise is to reject the very logical foundation upon which Christianity has always stood.
Another name for the builders is The Religious Establishment. These are the people who hope to fulfill their ambitions for power and wealth via their prominent positions in the religious system. They always gravitate toward the system predominant in the society of their time. As Christianity has now reached that exalted position in our own society, the hierarchy of the organized Church (either Catholic or Protestant) is, today, the ladder they aspire to climb.
“Something greater than the Temple is here,” Jesus told all who would listen to Him. The Temple – that is, the organized religious structure – is, in and of itself, not a bad thing. But when fashioned into a legalistic, ritual-bound system, it becomes yet another idol. When the Temple was first rebuilt, it was a glorious, communal act of faith in, and of fidelity to, God. It was meant to bring us closer to God, not to take the place of God.
Whenever “the system” becomes more important than mercy, and whenever the law takes precedence over love, then the cornerstone has – yet again – been rejected. Those who reject the cornerstone would rather trust in human efforts than in God’s all-powerful love.
Many religious people confuse the cornerstone with the blueprint. Their religion is all in their heads; they say they believe this or that, but in reality, they merely thinkit. Believing something means putting one’s faith in it to the point of depending upon it; it truly becomes the foundation upon which the lives of the faithful stand.
Let’s look at another way of comparing the difference between the sort of faith that builds upon a cornerstone and that which keeps admiring the blueprint, yet never gets around to building. If you sit on the shore, admiring a big, beautiful boat that’s moored to the dock, yet do not come aboard the boat and set sail on it, you may think you have faith in that boat, but you are not willing to rest your faith upon it. Building on the cornerstone is like venturing aboard the boat and taking her out for a sail – confident that even if the waters get rough, it will be able to return you to the land in safety.
Those who put their faith in Jesus take the risk of living their lives as He did. They dare to love extravagantly, even when the people they love are unattractive or unpopular by the standards of this world. They love others because Jesus loves them – which is to say, because God loves us all. All sin, at bottom, is rooted in a refusal to accept God’s love. Those who do not love others, for whatever superficial, trumped-up reason, are those who do not really believe in the love of God.
Christianity is not merely a religion, but a relationship – a loving relationship with God in Christ. All, in God’s realm, will always be based upon love. God is strong enough to be weak for the sake of love, rich enough to be poor for the sake of love, righteous enough to be merciful for the sake of love.
This is the all-important message Whosoever has been attempting to impart these past ten years. This magazine has dug in to do the backbreaking work of rebuilding the broken-down walls of the Christian faith – a faith devastated, in the public heart and mind, by heartbreak and cynicism. We must continue our work, insisting more than ever that the structure of Christian faith remain rooted on the cornerstone of Christ. The Temple will not stand unless it is anchored to something greater than itself – and of course, that is none other than Christ Himself.
The Cornerstone of Christ is, very frankly, all we Whosoeverans have got. We’ll never get rich or powerful being Christians. We languish among the despised and trampled-upon – the very ones for whom the Gospels tell us Jesus showed a special love and with whom, for the most part, He chose to spend His time on earth. The “builders” reject us, because we cannot make them rich or boost their big careers. But just as the first Christians – who were again, for the most part, the humble, the despised and the ignored – first let the world to Christ, it may very well be we who lead it back to Him today.
All we ever hear about, from the media, are the people who threaten to leave the church if we are invited into it. What few of us realize is that many other people are inspired to see that we are among those some brave churches now welcome. I don’t want to sound mean, but maybe the Church needs a good bloodletting. Maybe some of the haters and excluders need to leave to make room for those willing to love as generously as they are loved.
Is there room enough for all? Of course there is. All except for those who will not make room for others. One of the most persistent themes in Jesus’ teachings was that compassion will be given to all who offer compassion to others. Those who refuse compassion and welcome to others will actually, in the end, find the doors closed to themselves – and will be forced to stay in the darkness outside, watching through the windows as the rabble they would have kept out enjoy the Bridegroom’s feast in their places.
God doesn’t exclude anybody. Indeed, if God had “His” way, nobody would be left out. The only people who will be excluded are those who tried to exclude others. Those who are willing to love will not be forced to suffer alongside those who insist upon hating.
All we must do to love Christ, according to Jesus Himself, is to love all of those He loves. Those who cast Christ’s love aside because it won’t make them rich, gain them power or boost their careers – even as they claim His Name – think that their rejection of us is our tragedy. In reality, it is their own.
A self-described “Libertarian Episcopalian lesbian,” freelance writer and the author of Good Clowns, a young adult novel published in 2018, Lori Heine published a blog called Born on 9-11 and was a frequent contributor to the website Liberty Unbound. A native of Phoenix, Ariz., she graduated from Grand Canyon University in 1988 and spent much of her life in the insurance industry before turning full-time to writing as a freelancer, blogger and author.