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A Stone for Breaking

April 07, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, where Luke records, [Jesus] looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

What we have here … is a history lesson. Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard owner who leaves the country, and leaves his vineyard in the hands of tenants who are … less than reputable. The time comes, and the owner wants to know how the crop is doing, so he sends a servant to bring back a sample. Unfortunately, the tenants decide to beat him and send him away empty-handed. That doesn’t deter the vineyard owner; he sends another servant; he’s not only beaten and sent away, but this guy, they treat shamefully, literally adding insult to injury. So he sends a third; that guy gets wounded – badly – by the wicked tenants, and is cast out. The vineyard owner is clearly getting frustrated; thrice, he’s sent his loyal servants to the vineyard, and thrice, they’ve been abused, mistreated, and kicked back to their master by these wicked tenants. So he decides, “Know what? I’m going to send my son to them for this task; maybe they’ll respect him, since he is my son.” … That doesn’t happen. Instead, the tenants somehow assume that, if the heir is dead, they will get the inheritance, so they kill the son.

Yes, this has been a history lesson, albeit in parabolic form, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out just who all these characters represent; even the chief priests, the elders, the scribes all seem to know what Jesus is getting at. This likely explains why, when He tells them that the vineyard owner will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others, they exclaim, “Surely not! May it never be!” They know that they, and their ancestors, are the wicked tenants in the parable. They are the ones who have beaten and abused the prophets of God through the centuries. They recognize that Jesus is calling them to task because, in the history of Israel, the “religious establishment” had always been the ones responsible for the mistreatment of the people that God had sent to them. Now Jesus says that, because the wicked tenants kill the vineyard owner’s son, they will be destroyed, and adding insult to injury, He’s going to give the vineyard, the claim of Israel, to others.

Let’s be clear here: this parable is directed at these religious leaders of Israel. It’s not quite … meant for us. You are not first-century religious leaders in Judea. Neither am I, neither is Pastor French, neither is anyone else in this day and age. This is a warning to those who, at that very moment, are plotting in their hearts to lay their hands upon the Son of God and kill Him. So, really, this parable is not about us. But what Jesus says next is applicable to all people, including us.

In response to their outcry of “Surely not!” … Jesus replies with this: “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” He’s citing Psalm 118, how the Messiah is going to be rejected. These are haunting words that Jesus proclaims. Either one will stumble and fall upon the cornerstone and be broken to pieces … or it will fall upon them, and crush them. Then. Now. The rejection of the Messiah in any age of this world … is a death sentence.

Such words should rightly strike fear into the hearts of all who hear them. But instead of repenting (even if only out of fear of God’s righteous wrath), the religious leaders double-down. In response to what Jesus has just said, Luke tells us that the scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. The days that followed would bear this out, as the chief priests, prompted by Judas’s treachery, have Jesus arrested, beaten, brought before Pilate, scourged, mocked, crucified, killed, and buried. The stone the builders rejected … is broken, as He breathes His last, suspended between heaven and earth, bearing the sins of all mankind. Those around Him, reject Him … they kill Him … and because of that, they think that they’ve won. They think the vineyard, the inheritance, the claim to be the special people marked for salvation, is theirs and theirs alone. … But the vineyard owner has other plans…

He has no intention of allowing His Son to remain dead. So as the wicked tenants bask in the self-assurance that what they have just done will help them maintain their positions and even merit blessing, the slain Son of the vineyard owner rises from death … He, who was truly dead, is alive again. This Stone, rejected and broken by the builders, has become the cornerstone! By raising Him from the dust of death, God affirms Who Jesus is: His Son, the Messiah, the Cornerstone of the new thing that He is doing in this world! He is creating a new Israel – not comprised solely of those descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but all those who do not reject the Messiah, who do not spurn the promises given in Him but rather cling to them! This new Israel, tended by new tenants, is comprised of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and masters, rich and poor – all held together by the chief Cornerstone! Those who reject Him … are broken to pieces, crushed into dust. The history bears this out, when in AD 70, Jerusalem is besieged and destroyed by the Romans, the temple destroyed, the people scattered. By contrast, those who hold to Jesus, who trust in His salvific work, grow in spite of persecution. The more the world tries to crush them, the better they grow. Like Paul, these New Israelites count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord!

So, no, this parable is not about us, but we are in the very end of it. Christ Jesus, the true Cornerstone once rejected by men, is the Messiah, and He is our Lord. He has claimed us to be His own in the waters of holy baptism. He sustains us through the proclamation of His Word, and feeds us with His own body and blood. Not that we deserved it – remember, each and every one of us bears as much responsibility for putting Jesus on the cross as any of the Sanhedrin or centurions present that fateful Good Friday. Rather, by the mercy and love of God the Father, we are grafted into Christ, the Second Adam, the New Israel. We are grafted into that beautiful and rich vine in His vineyard, and we count our blessings, knowing that He has called us out of the darkness of rejection into His marvelous light of faith. Because Jesus was broken for us, we trust that we will not break upon this Cornerstone!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Luke 20:9-20