by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
When Edgar Allen Poe wrote “The Raven” in 1844, he thought it would bring him fame and fortune. He was only right about the fame. “The Raven” was to have been the crowning achievement of Poe's career. But while it brought him lasting fame, there was no corresponding fortune. Poe received $15 when “The Raven” was published in the New York Evening Mirror, in January, 1845; this was not a large amount of money, even in the mid-1800’s. And yet, “The Raven” is among the best known poems in American literature and possibly the best known of all Poe’s works.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to know the value of something. Recently, many large companies have disclosed that their “profits” were the result of creative accounting, and that the companies involved actually took losses, sometimes very substantial ones. Billions of dollars’ worth of “profits” disappeared overnight. As a result, people who owned stock in these companies suddenly found that their stock was worth a fraction of what it had been just days earlier. Many others found their retirement savings worth far less than they had been.
In a similar way, Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders,
“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’?” (Matt. 21:42b NRSV).
Jesus told the chief priests and the Pharisees that if they were unworthy of the kingdom of God, it would be taken from them and given to another people (Matt. 21:43). Quoting the Psalmist, he described himself as “‘The stone that the builders rejected.’” (Psa. 118:22). But he could also have been describing “the tax collectors and the prostitutes” (Matt. 21:31b NRSV) and the other undesirables who were his followers. The righteous and powerful of Jesus’ day considered people such as these worthless but Jesus said things were not as they seemed, that he and these other rejected stones would become “cornerstones.”
Paul wrote, “we have this treasure in clay jars, . . .” (2 Cor. 4:7a NRSV). Some of us might not look like much on the outside but God has placed “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6b NRSV) within us to be a light to the world. If we let our light shine, others will see and believe (Matt. 5:16). Jesus said God cares for the sparrows and that we are “. . . of more value than many sparrows.” (Matt. 10:31b NRSV.)
One way we can let our light shine is through our actions. A given act might seem insignificant to us at the time but it might have an unforeseen impact on the other person. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews (possibly Paul) wrote, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Heb. 13:2 NRSV.) A simple act of kindness can have effects far beyond what we might expect or intend, and be worth far more than we know.
We are surrounded by people who need kindness, who need to see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God,” and who need something of lasting value in their lives. They need to know that they can be “cornerstones” instead of rejected stones. We can show them God’s love and care, along with our own. And, in the process, we can be “cornerstones” too.
“For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Cor. 4:5-9 NRSV.)