Jesus is the Rock/Cornerstone

With all the rain and flooding due to Hurricane Harvey that struck south Texas and Houston this past week, some places received over 50 inches of rain, we are reminded of the great flood at the time of Noah as recorded in Genesis 6-7. We are also reminded of Jesus’ parable of the houses built on the sand and the rock in Matthew 7:24-27. Probably many people in Houston said “I built my house on high ground.” But of course this wasn’t a ten year or a fifty year flood. This was the all-time record for rainfall—literally a flood of biblical proportions.

   Let’s go back and read Jesus’ short parable about the foundation of homes.

24"Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall." (Matthew 7:24-27)

   So we see that Jesus is not talk about a literal house but rather how a person lives his or her life. We can hear Jesus words and commandments, just like we are today, right now in His Church. But the key question is: “Are we going to do them?”

   Building our house on the rock of Jesus relates to His words in today’s Gospel from the 13th Sunday of Matthew (21:33-42). Some call it the Parable of the Vineyard. Others name it the Parable of the Evil/Wicked Servants. The owner of the vineyard leases it out (v.33) and then sends his servants to collect the rent. The lessees or renters, instead of paying beat, kill and stone a succession of the owner’s servants. Finally, the owner sends his son but the renters kill him also. Those listening to Jesus tell the parable would likely have remembered passages from

2Chronicles 24:20-22; 36:11-16                     Stoning of Zechariah and Rejection of other Prophets

20Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, who stood above the people, and said to them, “Thus says God: ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, He also has forsaken you.’” 21So they conspired against him, and at the command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the Lord. 22Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but killed his son; and as he died, he said, “The Lord look on it, and repay!”

11Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. 12He did evil in the sight of the Lord his God, and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the Lord. 13And he also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear an oath by God; but he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord God of Israel. 14Moreover all the leaders of the priests and the people transgressed more and more, according to all the abominations of the nations, and defiled the house of the Lord which He had consecrated in Jerusalem.

15And the Lord God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. 16But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy.

   Jesus closes the parable with a quote from Psalm 118:22 saying, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” To those familiar with the sacred Scriptures at the time of Jesus, they would have immediately remembered other specific prophecies:

     16Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily. (Isaiah 28:16)

     34While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. 35Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue become a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.44In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set-up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. (Daniel 2:34-35,44)

     And he will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. (Isaiah 8:14)

   No doubt, Christ was making a clear connection between Himself and the cornerstone, between Himself and the Son of the vineyard owner which is God the Father. The Apostles emphasized this connection in their letters.

   In his Gospel, the Evangelist Luke recounts the prophecy of the Elder Simeon to Jesus’ mother:

     34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

   Luke further expounds on this in the Book of Acts,:

     10let it be known to you all, 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 stands here before you whole. 11This is the 'stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.' 12Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:10-12)

   The Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Ephesus:

19Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, 21in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

   The Apostle Peter, before quoting the same Prophecy of Isaiah, said:

4Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, "Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame." (1Peter 2:4-6)

   In case anyone does not understand the point, Peter continues:

7Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, "The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone," 8and "A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense." They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. (1Peter 2:7-8)

   In every Divine Liturgy, right before the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the clergy recite Psalm 18:1-2 as they reverence the Holy Gifts, 1I will love You, O LORD, my strength. 2The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. This is sung as a hymn by the choir/chanters when the bishop is presiding.

   So, after hearing all these biblical passages, who is our rock? Is it the Lord Jesus Christ and His teachings or is it something else? Who is the cornerstone of our life, upon which everything else is built? And how do we treat the Lord’s prophets today? Do we ignore them with stony hearts and hears? Do we beat them with criticism to deflect attention away from our lack of faithfulness and commitment? Do we kill them and how?

   As we conclude, let us be mindful of how Christ Himself brings home the point ever so clearly and powerfully in the verses just after today’s Gospel passage. He says,

43“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.45Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them.

   According to St. John Chrysostom, this saying illustrates the two ways of destruction. Those falling on the stone are people who suffer the consequences of their sins while yet in this life, whereas those on whom the stone falls are unrepentant people who will suffer utter destruction in the final judgment. My brothers and sisters, the Lord has placed us in the vineyard of this life and His glorious Church. Let us give Him His fruits in due season with thanksgiving and glorification. Let us also share those fruits with the poor and needy, especially those who are suffering in Houston. IOCC.org has mobilized and is helping. Let us hear the words of the Lord and do them by joining in the effort. 46The LORD lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let the God of my salvation be exalted. (Psalm 18:46). Amen    !