Psalm 118: Rejected Stones & Chief of the Corner

Psalm 118:1-4, 19-24, 29

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,

    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord‘s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

Queen Anne’s Lace, Ready to Bloom | Mercer Botanical Garden | March 2023

I spent the most physically-challenging 7 months of my life not in Army Basic Training, but working in a brick factory. I  graduated from college in December and was heading off the seminary in August. For those 7 months I worked in a brick factory. There was a 1500 degree kiln running down the center of a long building in which the bricks were made. I won’t go into details, but it was hard work; very hard work in fact. Part of the less physically-challenging work was separating the face brick from the bricks that had imperfections or cracks on the face. Those would be coated or painted with a slurry of water, cement, and pigment.

But there were others – especially on the bottom of the carts that were loaded and pushed through the kiln – that were broken. These brickbats were pieces of broken and deformed bricks, not insults hurled at someone (an alternate meaning of the term). I can say fairly confidently that these brickbats were never to be used for anything other than filler inside a wall – well hidden from sight. We usually just hauled them out to a spot on the property and dumped them.

Consider this verse:

The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone.

This verse is used only here in the Old Testament, but Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Peter all pick up on it as a description of what happened to Jesus: rejected by the builders (Jewish leaders), but the most important stone in the building of God’s church. The key to all that God was doing from the first moment of creation. His plan culminated in the rejection of Jesus and God’s exaltation of him to his right hand. This was all God’s doing. And it truly is marvelous in our eyes.

I wonder how the people of Jesus’ day saw it? Was it marvelous in their eyes? For some, yes. But for the majority of the Jewish nation – God’s own people! – this was abhorrent in appearance. A man on a cross. Shamed before the world. Ignominious and forsaken by God and man. Is this marvelous? No, it was for the Jewish leaders, and perhaps the Romans as well, 6 hours of hell and an expected lifetime of relief. They would be done with him at last. So they thought.

But God had other plans. From ignomy to honor. From shame to glory. From rejection to exaltation. This was the path that Jesus would take. We celebrate it on Easter Sunday. We are reminded of it on Ascension Day (40 days after Easter). We see the results on Pentecost and thereafter. The Holy Spirit is poured out and 3000 are brought to faith in one day. Then the word of the Lord grows as the message of the cross and the empty tomb was proclaimed throughout Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. This is proven by the fact that you and I have heard this message and been brought to faith in Jesus. He is essential to our faith.

When Peter quotes this verse (Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:7), he uses the term, literally, “head of the corner.” Chief cornerstone is an adequate way to express this term, but the idea here is that this stone is the most important stone in the building process. All of the dimensions, angles, and measurements were taken from the chief of the corner [stone] in the building process. If it was flawed the whole building would be flawed.

I wonder how this verse might apply to us today. Certainly as a reminder that Jesus is the chief of the corner. He defines the building of the church. He defines its angles, dimensions, and measurements. He is essential to our faith. This has never been an issue for me, but for some it must be. I recall going to a funeral service in a Christian church (not of my tribe, thank God) where the name of Jesus was not mentioned even once. I was stunned! How can you celebrate the hope of the resurrection and the promise of eternal life without Jesus?

I guess you can remember someone somehow in that manner. But you cannot attach a true hope apart from Jesus. In fact so important is Jesus’ resurrection that St. Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.” (1 Corinthians 15:14) But indeed Christ has been raised from the dead! He is the chief of the corner. I’ll do all I can to build my life off of him, and when I fail, I will repent and look to him for grace, forgiveness, hope, and life. This is God’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.

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