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” (Lk. 20:17-18).
There are not many “obscure Scriptures” in the Gospels, so it can really take you aback when you read something there that you feel you’ve never read or noticed before. I felt that way when I came across this passage. We are familiar with Jesus quoting Psalm 118:22 in reference to himself: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” But what is obscure, or lesser known, is the commentary he adds in both Matthew and Luke: “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
Here Jesus is likely referring to another Old Testament passage (Isa. 8:14-15), but that doesn’t soften the blow. And yes, he was speaking directly to the scribes, chief priests, and elders – but this does not soften the blow either. We know that whatever Jesus says to those who opposed him most, we must hear for ourselves.
Luke is known for highlighting the compassion of Christ. But he does not “edit” or “cut” these somewhat harsh words. Indeed, the Gospels are full of grim warnings and serious demands made by Jesus. You may have noticed that it’s pretty hard to read through an entire Gospel (I recommend Mark) without feeling an urgent need to change. It’s true that the highest motivation for anything is love; but sometimes we might just need a tough warning first. For this we can always count on the Cornerstone. New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson remarks in reference to this passage: “This stone is not simply a passive block against which one may stumble – it can fall on someone!”