Coming to a lectionary reading close to you this Sunday is an absolutely vital reading for the understanding of the faith of Jesus. Not our faith in Jesus, but the faith of Jesus. Since the earliest days of the Church, these two ideas have been confused and have caused a lot of problems in the Church (see also: being in positions of power in the various empires throughout history, violent persecutions, forced conversions, the Atlantic slave trade, etc. Buy me a drink if you want to disagree).
When we confuse our appropriate faith in Jesus, who is the Anointed One, Lord, Savior, Redeemer, and so much more, with the faith of Jesus, a faith in the Oneness of God, the sovereignty of God, the covenant with Israel and the new covenant with the Nations that brings us into the family of Israel, and so much more, we can get deeply lost as individuals, as congregations, and as the Church.
This is never more on display than when we attempt to understand what Jesus says in Sunday’s reading:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’? (Mt 21.42, Ps 118.22-23)
Traditionally in the Church, this has been understood as a warrant for the new covenant to supersede the covenant with Israel. First, this is not true. Jesus was a Jew of the pharisaic persuasion and seems to have expected a renewed covenant with Israel not a radically different covenant excluding Israel, and in several passages seems ambivalent on whether there should even be a mission to the nations. Jesus was not dunking on the Jews or on the Pharisees or even the Temple. At most, he is indicting those who work with the empire to sell out their kindred.
Second, to think that God would fully reject Israel, is to make God a liar. God has made an eternal covenant with Israel that wasn’t broken in Egypt, Babylon, or under any other circumstance in history. God keeps all of God’s promises. So if you say that Israel is being thrown out of the covenant, or that Jesus said that, you’re at minimum unlearned about Jesus’ mission or at misrepresenting what Jesus said and making God out to be a liar and a fool.
When we place faith solely in Jesus, it is easy to misplace the cornerstone. We too can miss the mark, like the Roman collaborators in Jesus’ day and we can justify any number of atrocities. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 146.3 “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” The cornerstone that we are too seek is the covenant that God has made with us, the rejected stone is not Jesus, but the faith in God and God’s promises, and in God’s covenant. We, who are not born into the people of Israel but are adopted through our own covenant, are also to place as our cornerstone that covenant, and that cornerstone was placed by God’s appointed architect, Jesus the Anointed One.
My prayer for us is that we can allow ourselves to trust in Jesus our Savior, but even more so that we can share in the faith of Jesus. My prayer is that we can see Jesus place this cornerstone of faith in God’s covenant in our lives, and that its placement can be marvelous in our eyes.