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October 3, 2008
Have you never read in the scriptures: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes"? -- Matthew 21:42

This is the righteous inversion of power for which human beings long. It lives in the fairy tales we tell our children: poor little Cinderella elevated over her awful stepsisters, orphaned Hansel and Gretel prevailing over the wicked witch. We read it in scripture: Joseph, betrayed and outcast, elevated to headship over all of Egypt's wealth; Moses, defenseless in his little boat, plucked from danger by a princess and raised in a palace. We love it when the rejected one becomes the most important one of all.

The words are already old when Jesus speaks them: he is quoting Psalm 118. When Christians use it today, we mean Jesus himself, stripped of everything, stripped of his very life, and then gloriously risen from the dead. But he is telling his parable before those events take place, and he's not talking about himself here. Jesus means people outside the community of Israel, people who are not "chosen." People with whom an observant 1st-century Jew will not even eat. The people his people reject. Do not think you are entitled to a special status where God is concerned. God is free to choose and choose again, free to bless without borders. Don't be too sure just who is in, especially if you think it's you.

We can rest in the love of God, but we can never rest in our own chosen-ness. The moment we begin to believe in the inevitability of our own triumph, that moment marks the beginning of our decline.

We are experiencing this in a cataclysmic way at this very moment: businesses that were "too big to fail," a market that would just take care of all our bad decisions by absorbing them, growing bigger and bigger, debt that need never be paid, that could just grow and grow -- all these chickens now seem to be coming home to roost. We seek to delay our own moral reckoning by accusing others -- It was Wall Street that did this, we tell each other. And certainly, greed abounded there. But it lived in us, too, showing itself in our enormous houses, our multiple huge cars, in the huge sums of credit card debt we accumulated because we had forgotten how to say "no" to ourselves. Our actions have not been unrelated to what has happened on Wall Street. Treating our own greed for more and more as if it were an entitlement, we have made it easy for corporate greed to victimize us.

God will not save me from the consequences of my own unwise or unrighteous actions. Sooner or later, I will pay for them. And God will not punish me for them, either: the world will take care of that. The fact that I am a person of faith does not mean I have inherited immunity from the law of cause and effect. There's no such thing as a free lunch for me, either, not here.

And if I fail to govern myself, someone else will govern me.


Economist Carol Stone helps us understand the current financial crisis, which keeps her very busy these days. Visit Ways of the World at

Pentecost 21 , Proper 22, Year A
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 or Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 19 or Psalm 80: 7-14
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46
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