The Ram and the Cornerstone

Scripture Focus: Genesis 22.13-14
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” 

Matthew 21.42-46
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: 

“ ‘The stone the builders rejected 
has become the cornerstone; 
the Lord has done this, 
and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 


43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet. 

Reflection: The Ram and the Cornerstone
By John Tillman

Our readings today highlight the symbolic sacrifice of Isaac and the first steps of the actual sacrifice of Jesus.

Jesus takes actions during the final week of his life that are intentionally provocative. His face is set like a flint toward Jerusalem. (Luke 9.51) He had been avoiding Jerusalem because of the existing plots against his life. (Matthew 16.21; 23.37-40; Luke 13.34-35; John 11.7-8) He had been cautioning many to keep silent about his miracles and his ministry. (Mark 1.42-44; 5.41-43; 7.33-36; 8.23-26) But, at the right time, Jesus reversed that low-key strategy. When Jesus showed back up in Jerusalem before Passover, it wasn’t quietly. He kinda kicked in the door a bit. 

When he arrived in the area, Jesus openly performed a dramatic resurrection of Lazarus, right outside the city, in the presence of his enemies. (John 11.43-53) Not long afterward, Jesus rode into Jerusalem receiving for once the true praise that was and is due him as king. (Matthew 21.1–11; Mark 11.1–11; Luke 19.28–44; John 12.12–19) Next, he cleansed the Temple of the animals that would be offered for sacrifices. (Perhaps in part, because he was there to replace them.) Then he told pointed and dramatic parables that embarrassed and exposed his enemies’ hypocrisies and failures.

Jesus entered Jerusalem like Isaac’s ram on the mountain top. He rammed his head into the thorns to ensure there would be no escape. He rammed his teaching into the foundations of the religious leaders’ security and pride, knowing what their violent response would be. The stone the builders rejected would be the cornerstone. Jesus knew he would be rejected. His final actions ensured it.

On the mountain of the Lord, he provides.

But there is a second analogy in Isaac. Jesus is not only symbolic of the ram in the thicket. He is also symbolic of Isaac, the son, willingly laid down for the sacrifice. Many commentators have noted that at Isaac’s age, he would have been strong enough to resist his aged father. If he did, scripture does not record it. We find him quietly bound and laying on the stone altar.

Willing Isaac on the stone and Jesus carrying his cross speak to us about our willingness to lay down our lives and desires for the benefit of others.

May we not reject the stone of suffering, of sacrifice, of self-control, or of truth.
May we reject instead the cushions of comfort, the banquet of indulgence, the flaunting of freedom, and the pleasing talk of false prophets.
May our only foundation stone be that of Christ.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
The Lord lives! Blessed is my Rock! Exalted is the God of my salvation! — Psalm 18.46

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 22 (Listen – 4:01) 
Matthew 21 (Listen – 7:10)

Read more about Truth Unwanted :: A Guided Prayer
“Who is it you want?” — John 18.4
Jesus, you are the king, the gift, and the truth that the world does not want.

Read more about Naked Humility, Unexpected Salvation
How do we remain faithful without resorting to the weapons of shame or the strongarm tactics of anything-goes politics?

The Prince of Peace not Pacification

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 24.1-2
Do not envy the wicked,
    do not desire their company;
for their hearts plot violence,
    and their lips talk about making trouble.

Matthew 21.4-5
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
“Say to Daughter Zion,
    ‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
    and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

*This week will follow the events of Holy Week in our reflections, tying them, where applicable to our daily readings.

Reflection:  The Prince of Peace not Pacification
By John Tillman

After the triumph of Jesus entering Jerusalem, Monday, might seem anti-climactic to some of his followers. 

During the triumphal entry, the more politically motivated and “patriotic” of Christ’s disciples must have sensed a growing momentum against the elitist immoral government. The palm branches they waved were symbols of the failed Maccabean rebellion and an expression of nationalistic, patriotic pride. Christ went out of his way to arrive in a manner that both fit this paradigm and shatter it at the same time. Riding into the city on a colt referenced a well-known Messianic prophecy and identified Jesus as the promised Messianic King. Many would also react with glee when he cleansed the temple, just as we would if authorities took down a price-gouging opportunist selling hand-sanitizer.

But on Monday all that energy seems to fizzle out. Jesus does not march on the palaces of the rich. He does not pull down and replace corrupt leaders or cast off Roman oppression. Things do not go the way people expected. In the Old Testament stories they were used to, when the king purified the temple, what followed was the defeat of Israel’s enemies and a period of political victory and peace.

Jesus, instead, remains consistent in representing the kind of kingdom he has been describing and demonstrating all along. The revolution Jesus enacts is a spiritual one and is greater than any temporal imaginings of the crowds or his more revolutionary-minded followers.

The revolution Jesus begins will defeat the enemy of Sin—a far more dangerous enemy than Rome. 
The revolution Jesus begins will win a victory over death, not over human leaders who are destined to die anyway. 
The revolution Jesus begins will bring to us eternal peace with God, not broker meaningless earthly “peace.” 

The earthly definition of peace that we are used to is disingenuous. Like the ironically named “Ministry of Peace” in George Orwell’s 1984, we don’t want peace—we want to win wars. We want “Peace in our time” and on our terms. Many times we, like the Jerusalem crowds, might prefer a Prince of Pacification instead of a Prince of Peace.

As we anticipate Jesus’ arrival to our Jerusalem and as we follow him may we avoid the disillusionment that plagued Judas and other politically motivated disciples. Let us see Jesus as the Prince of Peace he truly is letting go of any dreams of earthly power.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Deliverance belongs to the Lord. Your blessing be upon your people! — Psalm 3.8

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 24 (Listen 3:47) 
1 Thessalonians 3 (Listen -1:44)

Read more about Following Through Jerusalem
In our social media, drama-driven world, we often long for someone to silence our critics and win our battles. We equate winning arguments with advancing the kingdom.

Read more about Tobiahs and Little Foxes
In a pre-visualization of Christ’s cleansing of the Temple, Nehemiah has to literally throw out the old baggage of the past (Tobiah and his belongings)

When the Dream becomes a Nightmare

Matthew 21.43
Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.

From John:
Today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States, we look back at a previous post from Dr. King.

It is popular today to be a fan of Dr. King. But neither Dr. King, nor Christ riding into Jerusalem in our reading today were interested in fans. They were interested in the fruit of action.

In Christ’s confrontation with the religious leaders, and the fickle crowd that would easily be swayed by them, he announced that failing to recognize the kingdom’s responsibilities would result in the kingdom being taken away and given to others.

May we not stumble on this rejected cornerstone. May we build on it instead. With action.

Reflection: When the Dream becomes a Nightmare
By Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)

In 1963, on a sweltering August afternoon, we stood in Washington, D.C. and talked to the nation about many things. Toward the end of that afternoon, I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had—and I must confess to you today that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare.

I remember the first time I saw that dream turn into a nightmare, just a few weeks after I had talked about it. It was when four beautiful, unoffending, innocent Negro girls were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. I watched that dream turn into a nightmare as I moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw my black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and saw the nation doing nothing to grapple with the Negroes’ problem of poverty.

I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched my black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve that problem. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched the war in Vietnam escalating, and as I saw so-called military advisors, sixteen thousand strong, turn into fighting soldiers until today over five hundred thousand American boys are fighting on Asian soil.

Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can’t give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.…

I still have a dream today that one day every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill will be made low, the rough places will be made smooth and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. I still have a dream that with this faith we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism.

With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when there will be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day, the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy.

*Abridged from A Christmas Sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — audio on YouTube (29:52)

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path.  — Psalm 119.105

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 22 (Listen – 4:01) 
Matthew 21 (Listen – 7:10)

Read more about Taking Advantage of the Desperate
As the church, we can be difference-makers, rebuilding the broken in our society. To do this, we must engage in economically nonsensical, entirely compassionate, community investment.


Read more about Decorating the Tombs of the Prophets
It is easy to look backward and to say “if I had been here I would have listened to Dr. King,”—even though I do not listen to what is happening around me in my own community, in my own neighborhood, in my own church. — Dr. Russell Moore

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