The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.
Recently I built a stone retaining wall in our garden. The old wall had collapsed in heavy rain. I had a huge pile of bush sandstones through which I would search for the perfect stone that would fit in the right place, so that the wall would be built straight but more importantly was less likely to fall again in heavy rain. Choosing the right stone was very important. Sometimes a stone that doesn’t look suitable fits perfectly when turned around or turned upside down. Every stone fits in somewhere, it is just a matter of trial and error and a lot of patience.
Please read the following verse seven times, turning it over in your mind, like you might turn over a stone in your hand, trying to find where it fits... - The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.
In the readings over the last three weeks Jesus has told a parable and the setting in each parable is a vineyard. The parables all have a similarity in that a man, a landowner, requires people to work in his vineyard. One man looks for hired workers, another asks his sons to work and a third leases his vineyard to tenants so that they can work in the vineyard. Each parable tells of a human owner of a vineyard. Jesus uses the reactions of the human owners of their vineyards to compare and/or contrast with God and God’s vineyard which is the kingdom of God.
Jesus is speaking with the chief priests and the elders in the Temple and he tells them a parable about a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it , and built a watchtower, then leased it to tenants and went away to another country for a while. When it was harvest time, the man sent his servants to collect his share of the harvest, but the tenants beat one of them, killed another and stoned another. So, the man sent more of his servants and the tenants treated them in the same way. Finally, the man sent his son, thinking, “Surely they will respect my son.” But no, they killed him too. Perhaps they thought if they got rid of the heir then it will be easier to make the vineyard theirs. Jesus asked the chief priests and elders what this landowner would do with the tenants. They replied, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time." This is what they would have expected a landowner to do. And perhaps today we would say he would call the police and have them charged with murder.
But in comparing the kingdom of God to a vineyard and God to a landowner Jesus’ parables often show how different God and God’s kingdom are to our earthly rulers and ways of doing things. There are some similarities but also enormous differences that pull the rug from beneath our thinking. In this case Jesus uses the metaphor of a stone to get his point across. 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 amazing in our eyes'? Therefore, I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls."
First of all, Jesus leads the chief priests and elders to a place where they realise that he is speaking about them as the tenants, those who have been left in charge of the vineyard. They are those whom the vineyard will be taken from and given to others. Then Jesus challenges them as he likens himself to a stone that builders have discarded which will become the most important stone, the cornerstone. The cornerstone of a building was the most important stone on which to build the house. If the cornerstone was badly chosen, the whole house could eventually fall or even fall while building it. But Jesus is not saying be careful about which stone you choose. He is saying that they have deliberately discarded the cornerstones on which God’s kingdom is to be built; so the kingdom will be taken from them and given to others to build. The vineyard will be given to others to produce the fruits of the kingdom. Jesus then says, “The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls."
In Jesus’ parables there are always twists, outlandish, peculiar things. What father would send his son to collect a harvest from people who had already killed his servants? Would the father not send the police or armed security guards? The stone on which God builds the kingdom is not a hard rock that crushes its foes, but a human being filled with love. The father does not send a warrior but his son: vulnerable and humble. Elsewhere Jesus is described as a stumbling block, a scandal to religion. Elsewhere also Jesus says that the wise person builds their house upon rock. Jesus is this rock, this stone, the cornerstone. If they don’t use him the kingdom will not be built, instead they will continue to stumble or fall and be broken into pieces or eventually be crushed, figuratively not literally, but in the sense that the building of the kingdom (their role) will be given to others, to outsiders, even to gentiles, to those who respond to Jesus and his love. They will lose their power, their role, their place.
From this parable we learn that Jesus is the stone of which the kingdom is built. Can you recognise that stone among all the stones in your life? Can you recognise the right stone for building your life right now? It takes time, it takes patience. The stones to choose are not always the stones we think are suitable. The stones of the kingdom, the stones that give life to our lives are stones of humility, stones of grace, stones of love, perhaps the stone of a kind word said at the right moment, or the act of kindness done without expectation of recognition or reward. These are often the stones that we do not want to pick up, turn over in our hands and feel and use in our lives. Yet these are the very stones that build God’s kingdom.
Sometimes when building a stone wall one has to stand back and stop for a while and just sit there, perhaps looking at the wall and turning over some stones in one’s hands. Reading a couple of verses of Scripture every a day, or some lines from a book or poem, or prayer, or staring at a stone wall, or a tree, or a flower can be time spent turning the stones that build the kingdom and build your life.
Prayer I found the following two prayers of the Celtic Pilgrimage Website, by participants called Angela and Eamon. Perhaps you may like to pick up and roll a stone in your hands and voice your own prayer.
Ever living, ever faithful, ever present God Encircling us, journeying with us, waiting for us God, who is both our refuge and our rock Help us to remember the stones of our being
Sacred stone, stone enduring Stones of silence, stones of despair Stones that speak to us Bleak stones, comforting stones Stones of sign and symbol Stones of generations, cared with intent Devotion, love, memory, service