Monday, June 15, 2009

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone

He began to tell the people this parable: ‘A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants in order that they might give him his share of the produce of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Next he sent another slave; that one also they beat and insulted and sent away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third; this one also they wounded and threw out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.” But when the tenants saw him, they discussed it among themselves and said, “This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance may be ours.” So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.’ When they heard this, they said, ‘Heaven forbid!’ But he looked at them and said, ‘What then does this text mean:

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone”

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’ When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.

- Luke 20:9-19

We come at this juncture in the gospel of Luke to a real story about Judgment and what judgment means. Jesus is again in Jerusalem; it is a continuation of yesterday's readings in which his confrontation with the religious leaders has begun.

In this passage we are told directly that the chief priests understand this parable is told against them. In commentary I read that this parable is a story of the history of Israel, the vineyard: of the prophets who have been sent to the people - God the Father is the owner, the vinedressers are the religious leaders, the servants are the prophets. The beloved Son is Jesus the Messiah. The "others" are the Gentiles. This seems to be a fairly reasonable understanding of the parable - at least as far as Luke's gospel indicates to us is to be our understanding.

Jesus quotation, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," is from Psalm 118:22. All are aware that Jesus here is referring to himself as the cornerstone. He says, 'Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.' This is a story about judgment and the consequences of outright rejection at levels of the highest responsibility. I believe that Jesus is speaking here directly to the priests as those who should know better: who shoulder a responsibility for already having studied and known and teaching what is in all the religious law, what are the sayings and the history of the prophets - for knowledge of spiritual reality and understanding. I think his direct confrontation here is with those he considers to have the greatest responsibility in terms of their decision to reject him and, indeed, to destroy him. He doesn't let them off the hook; for such level of responsibility - and for such a response - his prediction is destruction, extinction. I believe we are speaking here of a level of spiritual judgment that has to do with the ultimate Judgment. There is also a prefiguring of what will happen to the Israel of this time, the growth of a "new branch" among the Gentiles.

I don't pretend (nobody could, I think) to know all about Judgment and what it means. We're told we must seek God's judgment in all things: this is not about a human capacity for judging. But from the recent passages over the past couple of weeks, we can see that Jesus himself is teaching about judgment: about what is the nature of Judgment, what does Judgment look for, what is discernment, and what he expects of his followers, the disciples and apostles who will teach and preach in his name. We understand that salvation is part of the very heart of what judgment means in this kingdom: its goal is the restoration of the person at every level. But we also understand the fundamental difference between a heart that is open to this reality and one that rejects it - perhaps absolutely, perhaps violently. We understand the responsibility inherent in our response to the kingdom and its reality. We understand the need for kindness, compassion, truth and forgiveness. In all of these ways, we have been taught about what it means to judge good judgment, and about what it means to understand that we must be humble before God's judgment. We know the hand of compassion and mercy is always extended, that the door is always open for metanoia - our "change of mind." I believe that mercy is always extended and received through the merest questioning within ourselves that perhaps we should reconsider something.

But on the other hand, there is the notion of truth - that truth is part and parcel of good judgment. We do not look away when truth goes unacknowledged, or is unwilling to be acknowledged or considered. Our "change of mind" cannot take place otherwise. Repentance is not a cover up or a lie to smooth things over; it's something real. It takes place at the deepest depths of ourselves, of who we are. And it is perhaps there that we come to understand another fundamental question about what is Judgment: that in the place where we dwell most deeply we either say "yes" or "no" to that knoweldge of self we find in relationship to the Creator. This is why truth of the inmost kind is so important, so relevant to that judgment. Do we lose our lives or identity without it? What happens to personality that rejects good judgment, that practices lies and deceit, even to itself? What does it do to a person, to their basic sense of themselves, to reject embracing the compassionate relationship available to them - or even compassion itself and its root? I think we must remember Christ as Logos here - as guiding principle for Creation, for what is Good, True and Beautiful, and for what is truly "natural" to us, and as John the Evangelist says, as Love. If we take this rejection to be understood as a rejection of the Personification of all of these things, then we must understand what such depth of rejection - and the power of our free will - may mean for our personal identity and what exists of it. Do we create wholeness and wellness, restoration within ourselves, through such rejection? I believe we can also turn to the topic of Judgment within this consideration, of what it means to be a human being, to be full of "life in abundance" or to reject the source of that life and its capacity for abundance. I suggest we think about this only to consider what it means for us to accept a link to love and the balm of healing mercy within ourselves, and what difference that makes to the strength of our identity, our personas. I don't know what is the Judgment - but Jesus' words prompt me - and I hope my readers, too - to think about what it may mean, on all these multiple layers revealed in this gospel.

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