The Stone Rejected

4th Sunday of Easter (Year B)

“He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.”

Acts 4:11

What does St. Peter mean when he tells the Sanhedrin in this Sunday’s first reading that Jesus is “the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone” (Acts 4:11)? 

St. Peter is quoting from Psalm 118, which we read from in this Sunday’s responsorial psalm, and which we read from often during the Easter Season. Psalm 118 is a psalm of hallel, or a psalm of praise. On Divine Mercy Sunday, for example, we sang it to praise God because “his mercy endures forever.” This Sunday, we praise God because “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Ps 118:22). Why is that something to praise God for? Because that stone has become our savior (v. 21) and this is wonderful in God’s eyes (v. 23). St. Peter identifies Jesus (whose name means “Savior”) as the fulfillment of this psalm. 

How does Jesus fulfill this text? He fulfills it in both a literal and a spiritual sense.

How does Christ fulfill it literally? While it’s not explicitly stated in the gospels, archaeology tells us that Calvary is located in a rock quarry. The mountains of Judea are made of soft sandstone, so most of the buildings in Jerusalem — including the Temple — were made of this local stone. Because sandstone is so soft, not all of it is suitable for building. Usable pieces would be carved out of the mountain for construction, leaving behind sections of cracked and crumbly stone. Once all the good stone was removed, you were left with an area of lots of little hills and outcroppings of rejected rock. These exposed rock faces would often be used to carve tombs into. Jesus was crucified on one such mound of rejected rock and he was buried in another. The place of Jesus’ passion and death is literally rock rejected by the builders and it was here that Jesus opened the gates of eternal life, becoming the cornerstone of the new Temple.

This brings us to the spiritual meaning of this text. The Sanhedrin to whom St. Peter is speaking had been responsible for overseeing the reconstruction of the Jerusalem Temple for decades (from 19 BC until 63 AD). But Christ earlier claimed to be able to raise it in just three days (Jn 2:19). This shocked his listeners, but John clarifies that Jesus was speaking about the Temple of His Body (Jn 2:21). 

Through the Resurrection, Christ has inaugurated a new age of faith, one in which God is worshiped not in a single Temple in Jerusalem, but in spirit and truth throughout the whole world (cf. Jn 4:23). This new Temple is not a brick-and-mortar construction, but the very Body of Christ — a body which all Christians are members of by virtue of our baptism.

In his epistles, St. Paul speaks of those in the Church being not only members of Christ’s Body (1 Cor 12:27), but as parts of the “holy temple of the Lord” built upon the “foundation of the apostles and prophets” with “Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph 2:20-21). St. Peter similarly speaks of Christians as “living stones” being built into a “spiritual house… to offer spiritual sacrifices” (1 Pt 2:5). 

This is what the Church is: a holy temple made of living stones giving praise and worship to God. The cornerstone of that temple — the most important and foundational stone upon which the entire edifice rests — is Jesus Christ. 

The Sanhedrin, those builders charged not only with overseeing the construction of the physical Temple in Jerusalem, but also with building up the people of God of the old covenant, failed to recognize this crucial fact and so stand convicted by St. Peter’s testimony. Let’s not you and I, as living stones in the Temple of the Church, make the same mistake by failing to build our lives on Christ; still rejected by many in this world, but who alone is our solid and sure foundation (cf. 1 Cor 3:11).