Cornered

By: Rev. Paul Scalia

As on Palm Sunday, Psalm 118 occupies a prominent place on Easter Sunday.  At the Easter Vigil, it falls after the Gloria, between the New Testament reading and the Gospel.  Prime liturgical real estate, that.  Likewise it holds the privilege of being the Psalm for Easter Sunday Mass.  The Liturgy calls attention to verse 24: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”  But verse 22 has great bearing on this feast as well:

The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Resurrection by Fra Angelico courtesy of San Marco Museum, FlorenceThese words originally referred to the nation of Israel itself, and in particular to those returned from the Babylonian exile.  Under fierce persecution, that small and weak nation rebuilt the Temple, the Lord’s dwelling.  The great nations around little Israel scorned and destroyed her.  She was the stone rejected by the builders, by those who hold the levers of power in the world.  But by her return and rebuilding, she had now become the cornerstone – that is, the most significant nation, the foundation for God’s household.

Such was the original meaning.  Our Lord, however, takes these already significant words and applies them to Himself.  Days before His Passion, in a confrontation with the chief priests and Pharisees, He tells several parables to prophesy their loss of authority (cf. Mt 21).  To convey this harsh lesson He uses verses familiar to them:

Did you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes’? (Mt 21:42).

He even interprets the reference for them: “Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit” (Mt 21:43). Bad enough that He speaks about upsetting their authority, He even co-opts their psalms in the process!

Good Friday reveals Jesus Christ is the stone rejected by the builders.  Both the religious and the civil leaders – those who build society – rejected Him in the harshest way.  More importantly, and independent of their intentions, He had become the rejected stone by becoming sin itself, assuming the guilt and shame of all sin and of every sin.  Christ on the Cross is the rejected stone, unfit for any construction or dwelling.

Easter Sunday reveals Him, however, as the cornerstone, the foundation of God’s new creation.  Christ risen from the dead is the pattern for all who are to rise in Him.  The new life in which He rises is fit for every construction and establishes the Church as God’s dwelling place. “For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:11).  On Him, on the basis of all He has accomplished and promised, we build lives of beauty and holiness.

But notice that His rejection is the principle of becoming the cornerstone. It is not simply that the builders rejected Him at first, then had a change of heart, and brought Him back as the cornerstone.  Rather, his rejection was the condition for Him becoming the cornerstone. Through – not despite, but through – that rejection, through His dereliction on the Cross, He becomes the cornerstone.  Or, to put it in other terms that Jesus Himself uses, His rejection was the seed falling to the earth and dying so as to bear fruit (Jn 12:24), the stone rejected so as to become the cornerstone.  Easter is not about Christ’s life after death but about His new life through death.

So also for each of us: Our sins have made us rejected stones – broken, divided, unfit for any building or construction.  But by entrusting to Him our sins – and indeed all our weaknesses and every wound – they become the occasion for forgiveness, grace and new life.  They become, in a sense, the material for new construction.  Again, it is not simply that once we were cut off from God by sin and now He has brought us back.  It is, rather, that He has made our sins – our rejection – the very occasion and place of our experiencing His salvation and the means by which He makes us a new creation (cf. 2 Cor 5:17).

Hence the purpose of our 40 days now at an end: to acknowledge and experience that rejection that sin has caused.  Only to the degree that we do so will He establish us as cornerstones.  But….having done so, He then reveals His glory through us. It is not the supposedly perfect – the chief priests and Pharisees – that the Lord chooses as the stones of His new creation.  It is, rather, those who have repented, who know themselves to be rejected stones: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Lk 5:32).  Only the repentant sinners are made cornerstones, foundations for God’s dwelling in the world.

This is His glory, the work that He alone can accomplish. On Easter, He alone takes us, rejected stones, and incorporates us into His dwelling place: “For by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes!”

One thought on “Cornered

  1. I’ve been thinking about GOD in the context of reality off and on all week since Easter. Easter was a time of relative psychological ease and comfort for me as I sat at my computer thinking of what to write.

    For one, reality as a totality is more than creation itself, and indeed, is even more than GOD HIMSELF and is certainly more that each of the THREE DIVINE PERSONS themselves as individuals.

    Reality is the totality of all that is real, which as a currently existing set is GOD, GOD AS HE EXPRESSES HIMSELF IN HIS THREE DIVINE PERSONS, the Human Nature of Our Lord Jesus, His Mother Mary, and the entirety of the rest of Creation.

    But even more broadly, reality consists of not only what exists, but what can exist or is possible to exist but which does not yet exist.

    Furthermore, reality also consists of what did exist but no-longer exists.
    It can even be said that reality is defined by what could never have existed and what never can exist.

    Now, I would ponder, why does anything bother to exist as opposed to complete negation. We can further frame the question as to why GOD exists instead of GOD not existing. I think the answer to this question is more subtle then the 5 classic so-called proofs of GOD’s existence which are full of holes in light of modern cosmological theory and philosophical and mathematical studies of the relation between cause and effect and the integrity order of causality.

    I would hazard a strong guess that GOD as GODHEAD without reference to HIS self-expression as THREE PERSONS is not only un-caused PURE BEING, but is also un-generated being. Not even the DIVINE PERSONS OF THE SON and THE HOLY SPIRIT can lay claim to being ungenerated. The very Credo states that the SON is eternally begotten and the HOLY SPIRIT PROCEEDS from the FATHER and the SON.

    Perhaps GOD THE FATHER and GOD as GODHEAD without reference to PERSONAL MODES just has to be in an analogous manner that we would say, perhaps a particular person being called to the Married life or Clerical State is just something that has to happen. Another way of framing this is to use morality urgency to say that GOD just has to be, almost as if by a moral imperative as a limitedly understandable analogue.

    GOD is ultimately a mystery that only HE can comprehend as HE does because no created intellect by nature nor by grace can know GOD as GOD knows GOD because only GOD’s INTELLECT is as advanced and infinite as it is.

    However, we as rational created persons have all eternity to walk and converse with GOD, HIS THREE PERSONS, and all created rational natures and to even enjoy the to be glorified non-rational natures such as the a-volitional and therefore infant like innocence of purely physical reality and non-human animal creatures.

    OH LET THE ETERNAL PARTY BEGIN!

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