“The stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone” (Acts 4:11). These words we hear in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles should sound familiar to us: we encounter them again in the responsorial Psalm (which Saint Peter is quoting as he makes his speech in Acts) and similar imagery about rock and stone is frequent in the Bible.
In the Book of Exodus we hear about the rock of Meribah, which Moses struck to obtain water for the people of Israel (Exo 17:5-7). Later, Joshua sets up twelve stones—symbolic of the tribes of Israel—to build a memorial reminding the people of the Lord’s fidelity in bringing them into the promised land (Jos 4:1-9). Isaiah speaks of the Lord himself laying a cornerstone as a symbol of his redemption for those who put their trust in him: “See, I am laying a stone in Zion, a stone that has been tested, A precious cornerstone as a sure foundation; whoever puts faith in it will not waver” (Isa 28:16). Still later, the prophet Daniel describes a vision of a rock hewn without being touched by human hands which represented God’s dominion over all earthly kingdoms (Dan 2:34, 44-45).
In the New Testament, Jesus is tempted by the devil to turn the stones in the desert into bread to satisfy his hunger (Matt 4:3). Saint Peter is called “rock” by Jesus in a wordplay which is both humorous and solemn (Matt 16:17-19). For his part, Saint Paul refers to Christ himself as the rock who accompanies his people and supplies their needs (1 Cor 10:4). Finally, in the Book of Revelation, we hear about the twelve courses of precious stones which form the foundation of the city wall of the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev 21:9-21).
With all of these rock and stone images in mind, we recall that the theme of a stone being rejected by those who were experts becoming a worthy cornerstone should bring to mind the person of Jesus, who was rejected by those who should have recognized him yet welcomed by others who found in him the cornerstone and keystone of their salvation. In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear Saint Peter preaching to this effect, putting the focus squarely on Christ as the unique source of salvation for all who believe in him as their “firm foundation.”
Just as Jesus was rejected, so too we encounter rejection at times on account of our faith in Christ as the “rock” of our salvation. This experience of dismissal by others in our contemporary society was something even the earliest Christians dealt with; we get a hint of it in today’s second reading, from the First Letter of John: “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed” (1 John 3:1-2).
Instead of being put down by instances of rejection we should take courage, for as the Gospel reading assures us, Jesus the Good Shepherd is ever ready to intercede for us in moments when we feel rebuffed even by those closest to us. We read: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The one who was forecast as the stone rejected by the builders has truly become the cornerstone of salvation for all through his death and resurrection – “I will lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11, 15). Placing our trust in him, let us rest our hopes on the foundation of the apostles and all who have gone before us in the faith, with Christ Jesus himself as our cornerstone.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.