Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes?’” (Matthew 21:42)
In ancient times a cornerstone was perhaps the most crucial component of a building project. The cornerstone acted as a foundational anchor on which the entire weight of the building would eventually rest, ensuring structural integrity. It was often placed to allow the building to face important landmarks such as a temple, recognizing geographic significance. Once laid, the cornerstone became the point of reference for every line and angle throughout the building, establishing consistent orientation.
So if there were ever an architectural feature to adequately illustrate the importance of who Jesus is, it would be a cornerstone. On Jesus rests the infinite weight of our salvation. Jesus points us to a place of dwelling with the Father. For all who follow him, Jesus is the point of reference around which we orient our lives.
However, in this passage, Jesus describes himself as “The stone that the builders rejected [that] has become the cornerstone.”
What does it mean to reject a stone as a cornerstone? What reasons would builders have to reject a particular stone? They would not want that stone for the foundation, direction, and orientation of their project.
When the religious leaders of Jesus’ day heard his words and saw his works, they rejected him as the Messiah and had him crucified. They rejected Jesus as the foundation, direction, and orientation for what they were trying to accomplish in the world. However, in their rejection, Jesus was exalted as the cornerstone upon which God would enact His “marvelous” work.
So, the options are laid out for us: to receive or to reject Jesus as the cornerstone of God’s work in our lives and in this world. It is interesting, however, to note the option that does seem to be available: reshaping the stone. We might imagine that if builders found a stone that did not quite meet their needs, they would be able to reshape it in conformity with their project. They could simply chip away what they do not want and keep what they do want.
Undoubtedly, that is what many people attempt to do with Jesus. Many people want the peaceful, donkey-riding Jesus of celebration (Matthew 21:1-11), but they would discard the fig tree-cursing Jesus of judgment (Matthew 21:18-22). Many people want the temple-cleansing Jesus of vengeance (Matthew 21:12-13), but they would discard the publican and prostitute-forgiving Jesus of mercy and grace (Matthew 21:28-32). Nevertheless, despite how people attempt to conform Jesus to their own agendas and ambitions, he is a stone that will not be reshaped, only received or rejected.
In fact, we may need to learn a lesson. If Jesus does not seem to be the foundation, direction, and orientation we want for the work we are trying to accomplish in the world, we need to be reshaped. If Jesus does not fit our project, maybe we are building the wrong building. When we receive Jesus as the cornerstone of God’s work in the world and in our lives, it will be “marvelous in our eyes.”