Luke 20.16-19 — Anyone have a clue here?

When they heard this, they said, “God forbid!

But he looked at them and said, “What, then, is this that is written?

“The very stone which the builders rejected
has become the head of the corner?

“Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on any one it will crush him.”

The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable [Luke 20.9-16] against them.


20 responses

  1. The Talmid Rebbe | Reply

    Head of the corner: head of the outsider looking in?

    Perhaps the stone is the minority report that, for all its shortcomings that led to its rejection, still contains truth? That all who fall upon (into?) it come apart in understanding, and the intransigent are crushed under the weight of the matter (and the true weakness of the position)?

    In other words, some truths, however unpleasant, are unavoidable?

    1. I think we’re getting an architectural metaphor here, that ‘head of the corner’ would be a stone that’s keeping two walls together, stable, properly aligned…

      It might be something as abstract as a rejected idea — but if so, then an idea that’s only initially rejected, then adopted as a central theme.

      1. The Talmid Rebbe | Reply

        Hmm. If its a stone that affords stability, how could it fall on someone?

        1. Set in place in the right structure, it would afford stability. Moved from there, just a stone? (If you’ve ever had to take a crowbar to a wall, there’s a point at which it goes from being a structure with a few things loose to a loosely-connected heap of wood.) It seems pretty clear (unless this was an invalid assumption?) that the structure in question is the Temple — or rather, the human
          structure it symbolizes: all Israel & what connects them. If this ‘stone’ is a key element, but the Temple management has rejected it — or if it’s something nonfunctional they’ve tried to use as a weight-bearing element… (But I think it’s an historical reference that eludes me.)

          1. The Talmid Rebbe | Reply

            I think he’s calling them assholes.

            Some people can’t stand clowns.

            1. We know that. “Perceived that he told this parable against them.”

              He, and they, were on the same wavelength in this communication. They know how he’s dissing them; and I don’t.

              [Let’s unnest a little here.]

  2. Psalm 118:20 etc

    “This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter by it.

    I thank Thee that Thou hast answered me
    and hast become my salvation.

    The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the head of the corner;
    this is the Lord’s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes…”

    Notes [New Oxford Annotated, 1973] “While it is difficult to be sure whether the language is literal or figurative, it is tenable that the speaker is a king who has come to the Temple to offer thanks for a victory.”
    —- —- —- —-

    Isaiah 8:13-15
    “The Lord of hosts, Him you shall regard as holy; let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread. And He will become a sanctuary, and a stone of offense, and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble thereon; they shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”
    — — — — —

    Whatever Jesus is trying to say here, he knows these texts. So do the priests. And they emphatically don’t like what he’s implying. But what?

  3. This psalm has an historical context, which I haven’t been able to find. There’s a story about the stonecutters sending the cornerstone, which needed to go in toward the end of the process, early, so that it was set aside and lost at the construction site. Maybe, but I don’t think so.

    This one-liner comes in a psalm about a king coming to Jerusalem and wanting to be let in. If said king is David, it would be the city gates. For a later king, probably the Temple. But it’s referring to something way back in the tradition.

    Referring to David, not immediately accepted as King after Saul, but fighting his way to dominating the whole nation? To Jerusalem itself — as a non-Jewish city, not desirable to either Judah or the northern tribes but available as a compromise capitol after David’s conquest? To David as ruler of Jerusalem, after their initial refusal to surrender the city? Further possibilities?

  4. The Talmid Rebbe | Reply

    I thought tomorrow was Saturday. How’s that for longing?

    So the Psalms (songs) are attributed to David, being (arguably) the highly personal outpourings of the righteous man. Beyond that, I don’t know much about them yet. But I have read this psalm, and I wouldn’t interpret this as a one-liner but as the crux of the matter. It fits into the context of overcoming one’s enemies, and the architectural and man versus machine dynamics we’ve been discussing. I think you’re on the money to say an architectural metaphor. In David’s case, overcoming obstacles with God’s help to become the head of the corner that the builders rejected (i.e. anointed though Samuel tried to anoint all of his brothers before him, made King of Israel though the insiders didn’t like him! and crucial to Israel’s continued existence, though I don’t know enough to say how). Allegorically significant? I’d say so.

    How can a stone that the builders reject become the head of the corner? How can something deemed unfit for a purpose ultimately serve that purpose, and at that with devastating results described? If the thing in question was perfectly suited in the first place. If the thing in question was perfectly suited in the first place, how could it be rejected? Clearly a subjective decision. Why? Malevolence? Or simple ignorance?

    “What then is this that is written?” What? Don’t you know? Are you ignorant of what this thing is?

    Justice? Is Justice the head of the corner in any stable society? Those who are subjected to it come to pieces, as aspects of their lives are examined in minute detail. People caught under the weight of justice are destroyed, literally or figuratively. But the problem with this is, is Justice necessarily just? As you said previously, just because someone could get a fair trial, that ain’t necessarily the way to bet! And justice can be perverted. “Justice, Justice you shall pursue.” So, can justice exist in a vacuum?

    Lovingkindness? Hillel said to the gentile, “Torah says ‘Don’t do unto others as you wouldn’t have others do unto you Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the rest is study. So, study!” All who receive it (i.e. fall upon it) come to pieces, and all who try to subvert it (i.e. are beneath it) are crushed. Is lovingkindness subject to the same stresses as justice, or is it more black and white? Are we commanded to pursue it? Or just do it? Can lovingkindness exist in a vacuum?

    Faith or Piety? Not faith. Piety perhaps, because piety can be without faith, but I’m not sure true faith can be without piety of some form. There was once a man who realized he was an atheist. He went to his rabbi and said “Rabbi! Rabbi! I don’t believe, and there is no God. How can I be a good Jew if I don’t believe in God?” The rabbi said “My son, go to the next town. There, you will find one of the greatest rabbis of our generation. He feels as you do, and will tell you what you need to do.” So the man travelled to the next town and found the rabbi’s house, and entered. There, he found the rabbi dressed in his best, wearing a prayer shawl and tefillin, studying Torah. The man said “Rabbi! You’re know to not believe! What are you studying Torah?” The rabbi said, “my son, just because you don’t believe, doesn’t mean you should be ignorant.”

    God? Perhaps, as it is said, “we shall hear and we shall do.” If you leave God out of the structure, what is there to listen to? What is there to do?

    Me? My money’s on lovingkindess. But I’m a big ‘ole softie anyway. And a guy screamed out his car at me “yeah John Lennon wooooo!!!!” the other day. Can the others exist without lovingkindness?

    1. [This suddenly made sense to me last night, but the system ate my comment.]

      David is the person whom everyone Jesus was addressing would cast as the protagonist of the psalms. He brings an army to Jerusalem, at that time belonging to its builders, the ‘Jebusites.’

      It’s not in a location that’s good for much — but it is outside the territories of any of the Israelite tribes David wants to control. A palace here will not be a choice obviously favoring any of them. Furthermore, it’s a natural fortress. David wants it, but they won’t let him in. “Even the blind and the lame can keep you out of this place!”

      And then — David sends his elite troops up the drain of the Jebusites’ natural water supply, which they’ve been counting on to let them wait out his siege. From there, his partisans open the gates, and he comes in with the rest of the army!

      David’s victory here is over the builders who tried to keep him out. Jesus likes this story; his opponents within the Temple do not.

      Isaiah is the source for the part about the ‘stone’ which can be a ‘stone of offense’ or a ‘sanctuary’ — a stumbling block “to both houses of Israel”, and a snare “to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” Isaiah’s “stone” is explicitly God. If Jesus is claiming to be that stone, himself, his hearers would certainly object. But more likely he’s casting himself as David — and saying that God is at work in his campaign, as in David’s.

      Saying also that Israel will be broken, if they don’t reconcile themselves to God’s intentions for them. And that those who trust God to preserve Jerusalem will be caught in a snare, and crushed.

      Forty years, and the Romans besiege the city, while the Jewish leaders inside fight one another for control of the Temple. Expecting a miracle which was never promised.

      1. The Talmid Rebbe | Reply

        I think this is brilliant. It makes a lot of sense, and within the historical context of the times. Jesus the proto-Rabbi, who believed in the primacy of prayer and synagogue, and anti-Hellenization. The Priests, who believed in sacrifice and Temple, and were pro-Hellenization like the rest of the aristocracy. So here, Jesus is the classic disturbed Prophet figure, telling people exactly what they don’t want to hear.

      2. The Talmid Rebbe | Reply

        Would you say the never-promised miracle was reconciliation or deliverance?

        Ramban, one of the greatest mystical commentators, held that God did perform miracles, but not directly. This is why sending the spies to scout Canaan, though often considered ‘unfaithful’ was actually a good idea, to prepare for the inevitable military campaign.

        How do you think something could at once be sanctuary and stumbling block? To say the stone is explicitly God makes this seem self-evident to modern readership, and to Jesus. To the Priests? I’m not so sure, because of the different aspects of God that one can reference, though the subversive message was received.

        1. Wright makes a case that the Judeans of that time were largely hoping for deliverance, of themselves as they were…

          with the need for reconciliation first, and questions of how that might be accomplished, a crucial point of contention between different factions. Hence the fighting in the Temple in 70. Also that Jesus throughout his career was offering ‘reconciliation now!’ But that it didn’t look like the triumph of the pious over the unclean, rather the incorporation of people considered unclean into Israel. Rousing feelings stronger than the gays-in-church fusses of recent decades. With many pious souls unable to make that perspective-shift. [The Hellenized folks in charge, who seem to have been operating the Temple as a really great fund-raiser, were not likely to take to that program either.]

          I personally think God performs miracles any way SHe pleases. But in the context of the Exodus story, they’re told they’re going to go in and take over the land. They aren’t told how, nothing I know of forbidding them from any standard military methods. Where ‘unfaithfulness’ comes in when they count heads instead of asking God whom to believe. And go with their fears instead of trusting God to work things out It’s odd, considering what they’re said to have been through already.

          ‘Sanctuary to those who see their way; to the blind, a stumbling block?’ Jesus is certainly invoking Isaiah; I don’t know offhand which name Isaiah was referencing. But he was talking about impending judgment on the nation, and about to start in (next chapter) about a light coming out of Galilee.

  5. The Talmid Rebbe | Reply

    Apocalyptic beliefs were the fad back then. A tradition had developed (don’t remember where I read this, Crossan probably) that said a certain number of nations would rule over Israel before the end of the world, and the people believed Rome was “it.” People believed the world was going to end, literally, and the world to come would begin. The fore-runner to the present idea of Messianism came from the question “how could a just and compassionate God leave the good people who died out to dry, but leave the bad people their part in the world to come?” The obvious solution: Judgement Day, when God Himself would set everything right. This is why the “obsession” with ritual cleanliness that made it into the gospels, because it was equated with being in a state of readiness for what was to come. These beliefs were particularly prevalent in the boonies, like rural Galilee.

    I agree with you that, in Psalms and Isaiah, the stone is clearly God. In Luke? Thinking about it more, there was a lot of activity back then by people who were trying to tie themselves into the narrative of their common metaphor, the Tanakh. Jesus saying “God is on my side” like the rest of the Rabbis were doing, wouldn’t have sounded special to the Priests of the time, because this family feud had been going on since the end of the Babylonian Exile. If it were, the Priests would have slaughtered the Rabbis and various other sects long before. Jesus saying “I am God” or “I am David” here would have branded him as a clown or an idiot, and not worth being taken seriously, as the world was no stranger to nut jobs back then. Jesus “bringing a case against them,” in prophetic style, would evoke a response to a personal affront, and an organizational response to opposition. Also consider Jesus’ equation of the greatest commandment, and the driving force behind “Reconciliation Now!” “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind (actually being). This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Two commandments? Or one?

    Prophets in my tradition, historically, are closer to talking heads than weather forecasters, so this informs my reading. Isaiah was deeply concerned with the positions the leaders of his time, aligning with other worldly powers and not with God. So perhaps Jesus was acting more in the person of an Isaiah here?

    I have some commentaries to find on the scouts story. But the Israelites are told very clearly what they are to do with the Canaanites: destroy them, their idols, their meeting places, their altars, their high places, and take their land. But this presented a great problem for the Rabbis: how can you say all the Torah’s ways are pleasantness and all its paths are peace, when the books are preparation for a genocide?

  6. Different times, different understandings? I don’t personally see problems if you assume that the people of Mose’s time would see warfare as an appropriate way to acquire land, hence as the way they would naturally understand a message that they would do so — whereas in the First Century (after a few defeats) you had nonviolent protests against the presence of Roman standards in Jerusalem.

    What I see, checking this out: “Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” Not, “You will drive out.” “You will” is a reasonable interpretation, but they didn’t have to hear it that way. They did; they weren’t Quakers, and they hadn’t heard of the Rabbis.

    [What looks likely to me, behind the legendary background of this stuff, is that you actually had the Levites (who I understand were the one tribe who tended to have Egyptian names) arriving from Egypt and joining forces with one group of Canaanites against others.]
    —- —- —- —-

    As for Jesus’ “two commandments”, I see a subtle difference. And also why he says, “The second is like it.” We and He are one, so that loving God can’t be done without loving other people.
    — — — — —

    What I was finding when I went through the prophet stories in Samuel & Kings: Alas, these prophets were political beings with definite partisan axes to grind.

    Yes, Jesus could not have gotten away with “I am God” or “I am David.” But we’ve had these crowds of supporters, a few posts back, welcoming him as “the son of David.” There’s a implicit claim to be King behind everything he’s done since he came — and in many of his previous actions depicted here, back to proclaiming a jubilee when he reads Torah in his home synagogue. The Pharisees have no doubt presented a continual hassle since the return from Babylon — but Jesus promises to be a royal pain in the ass.
    —- —- —- —-

    You don’t, as NT Wright points out, need to wipe the space-time universe to end ‘the world as it is’ and produce ‘the new age’ (as that ‘world to come’ also gets translated.) That isn’t saying that there couldn’t be a few discontinuities in how fast crucial changes came down. Or violent upsets. One day Joram is King, and before the day is out Jehu is killing everyone connected to his regime.

    So these First Century Judeans are expecting God to make changes in the human world comparable to the crashing suns & moons of apocalyptic metaphor; they aren’t necessarily expecting a King to be the agent — but it’s one of the ways they can imagine this working. Jesus has been portrayed throughout as saying that what he’s doing is tied-to and producing the arrival of that ‘world to come’. This isn’t the usual game of priests-vs-rabbis.

  7. The Talmid Rebbe | Reply

    What’s a Rabbi? ๐Ÿ™‚

    Certainly different times, different understandings. You are correct. The Torah clearly says God will drive out the inhabitants of the land. It also says “When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you” in multiple places (this one’s from Numbers 33). What happens if they refuse to leave? You have to drive them out somehow. I think his is one of the many incarnations of the saying “Pray as if everything depended on God. Do as if everything depended on you.” So a military campaign was the general understanding, and you’re correct to say that was the expectation of the people at the time. Its how land was acquired, as you say. You found it…or you took it. This doesn’t solve a central problem posed by Torah itself to later generations, especially in light of recent events: if God is just and loving, how can He condone this violence?

    This is why God didn’t protest when Moses sued for peace with Edom and Amor, and why God didn’t protest when Joshua hesitated before taking Jericho: the divine ideal is to sue for peace, whenever possible (“you shall not bear a grudge against the children of your brethren” i.e. anyone). This wasn’t necessary with Og, however, who came out explicitly to fight.

    For me, one commandment: you can’t love God without loving other people. Loving other people is loving God.

    This is one of those topics that gets me a bit “hot.”

    Sure they did. All of the Prophets were human beings. Divinely inspired, perhaps. Divinely disturbed, perhaps. Human beings all. Some had the wrong idea. Some had the right idea. Amos: they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes. Being part of Yis-ra-El, Prince of God, they were all royal pains in the ass. Jesus was in good company.

    I like George Burns’ commentary on this whole thing in Oh God!

    I’m ready to move on to the next thing. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Hmm… This is one of those verses that I’ve heard paraphrased a lot. My grandma used to say “If you throw something out, you’ll find that you need it.”, which may have been the crux of what Jesus was saying. Those ideas that the Pharisees rejected became the crux of the new law? Interesting to consider.

    1. The Talmid Rebbe | Reply

      Hi Lindsey!

      Can you create a new law that is the same as the old law? What makes a new law “new”?

      Consider the differences between the followers of Hillel and Shammai?

    2. The ideas that the Pharisees de-emphasized? No question but that they were in there.

      Just the tendency to distrust whatever they couldn’t quote from anyone else?

      When “channeling” goes into fashion — an inability to take responsibility?

    3. The Talmid Rebbe | Reply

      It happened that a certain gentile came before Shammai and said to him: “Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.”

      Thereupon Shammai repulsed him with the builder’s cubit that was in his hand.

      When he (the gentile) went before Hillel, Hillel said to him, “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary; go and learn it.”

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