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Jesus: The Keystone — Bartholomew: A Foundation Stone

August 24, 2018

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Jesus the keystone

A Grand Edifice. St. Paul describes the church as a magnificent structure or a sacred temple (Eph 2:21). It is a grand and glorious building, breathtaking, a sight to behold. Jesus is the keystone, the apostles are the foundation stones, and the members are living stones. Over the centuries it has become a towering skyscraper, one generation of believers after another, one floor of living stones built upon another.

The Keystone. Jesus is the keystone or capstone of the church (Eph 2:20). Ancient buildings were made of stone blocks. Construction began with the erection of walls built with large blocks that were laid one upon another. Mortar and cement were not used. The great weight of the stones and the force of gravity made the wall rock solid. At the top of the wall, particularly over doorways and windows, there was an arch, and a scaffold was needed to build it. The scaffold supported two rows of angled stones, one row on each side. Then, at the place where the two rows came together in the middle at the top, one triangular-shaped stone was wedged between the two sides and hammered into place. This stone, the keystone or capstone, pushed so forcefully in each direction that it held the entire arch in place. Then the scaffold was removed. With the keystone in position, the building stood firm. If the keystone ever were to be removed, the building would come crashing down. Jesus is the keystone of the structure, the Church, and “through him the whole structure is held together” (Eph 2:21).

House built on a solid foundationThe Foundation Stones. The foundation is the lowest level of the building, either the basement or the ground floor. It is laid first, everything else is built upon it, and it supports the weight of the entire structure. The larger the building, the more important it is to have a sturdy foundation. The Church is massive. It spans the globe. It has a great multitude of members “from every nation, race, people, and tongue” (Rv 7:9). A building of epic size requires foundation stones that will not shift or crack, but remain firmly in place. When it comes to the Church, it is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets” (Eph 2:20a).

Apostolic Foundations. The bottom floor of the Church is twelve courses of stone laid by the twelve apostles (Rv 21:14). The apostles support the building with heavenly teaching. Peter, James, John, and Paul wrote enlightening letters. The apostles were missionaries and took the gospel to all nations (see Mt 28:19), and wherever they went to preach, they laid the foundation for a new Christian community, a new addition to the magnificent building that is the Church.

A Massive Building Project. The apostles traveled far and wide and laid foundations in multiple locations: Peter throughout Israel and in Antioch, Corinth, and Rome; Andrew in Asia Minor and Greece; James the Greater in Spain and Jerusalem; John in Ephesus, Patmos, and possibly Rome; Philip in Phrygia and Hierapolis; Thomas in Syria, Persia, and India; Bartholomew in India, Lycaonia, Mesopotamia, Persia, and Armenia; Matthew in Judea and Ethiopia; James the Lesser in and around Jerusalem; Simon the Zealot in Egypt and Persia; and Jude or Thaddeus in Mesopotamia and Persia. The apostles gave heroic witness with their unyielding commitment to Jesus, the fervor of their prophetic preaching, as well as their courage and determination. All but John died a martyr’s death, and through the blood of the apostolic martyrs seeds were sown and the Church experienced tremendous growth.

St. BartholomewSt. Bartholomew, A Foundation Stone. Bartholomew is an ashlar, a huge multi-ton stone in the foundation of the Church. He was a “true Israelite” (Jn 1:47a), a person who knew God’s law and obeyed it. Jesus said, “There is no duplicity in him” (Jn 1:47b); Bartholomew was not two-faced, he was good inside and out. Jesus also said of Bartholomew, “I saw you under the fig tree” (Jn 1:48), a Jewish saying which means, “I saw you reading Scripture and meditating on it.” Bartholomew told Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God” (Jn 1:49); he made the earliest major profession of faith by an apostle. After Pentecost, he was a missionary and fearlessly proclaimed the gospel, first in India, then in the Middle East and Turkey, and finally in Armenia where he was martyred, skinned alive. Bartholomew was on Jesus’ first construction crew, and with the other apostles, he buttressed the foundation of the Church.

Living Stones. Jesus is the keystone at the top of the building, the apostles are the foundation stones at the bottom of the building, and the disciples of Jesus are the living stones that make up the rest of the building. Peter wrote that believers are “like living stones” and he taught Christians to “let yourselves be built into a spiritual house” (1 Pt 2:5). With Jesus as the head and the apostles as the foundation, the construction program can move forward.

Stones. Peter says “stones,” not “stone.” One stone does not make a wall, and it takes many believers to build the Church. It is a community project, not a personal endeavor. Christianity is not a private affair. Jesus gathered a diverse group of apostles and prayed that they would be unified as one. Doubting Thomas showed the error of going off alone. Whenever a sheep wanders away, the Good Shepherd wants to rescue it and bring it back to the flock. There are no individual stones in the Church; they are attached to each other.

Living. While a stone or brick is inanimate, a Christian is vibrant and energetic. A living stone is a loving stone. Jesus said, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). A living stone also practices self-denial and is able to endure suffering. Jesus explained, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). A living stone follows the example of Jesus, as he instructed his apostles at the Last Supper, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:15). A living stone is dynamic, and Matthew Kelly, in his book, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, explained the four distinguishing characteristics of a living stone: one who prays each day, studies the faith, is generous, and evangelizes by sharing their belief in Jesus and the Good News of his gospel with others.

A Towering Skyscraper. Jesus and his apostles did the groundbreaking for his magnificent structure two thousand years ago, and the project continues today. The apostles were the foundation, and every subsequent generation has added a floor. If one generation is roughly twenty-five years, four floors are added every century. The building has been going up for twenty centuries and is now an eighty story skyscraper. Our parents built the eightieth floor. Our grandparents built the seventy-ninth. We are building the eighty-first. Since one floor is set upon another, every floor must be well built and the stones must not be cracked or flawed, otherwise the strength of the building will be compromised. More floors will be added after our time on earth is done. It behooves us to be strong living stones so our floor will be able to carry the weight of the floors that will be added in the centuries to come.

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