by Father Mike Stubbs
What’s so special about a cornerstone?
Sometimes, we will see a cornerstone of a public building, such as a church or a town hall. It often will be inscribed with the date of construction and other items of information about the building. At the same time, the cornerstone does not look absolutely necessary. The building would still stand without it.
On the other hand, centuries ago, the cornerstone was the very first stone laid in the construction of the building. All the other stones lined up with it. The cornerstone determined the course of the entire building. It was the most important piece of the building.
“The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.”
The apostle Peter quotes this verse from Ps 118:22 in his talk, which we hear in Sunday’s first reading, Acts 4:8-12. He identifies Jesus as the cornerstone rejected by the builders, whom he identifies as the leaders of the people.
Originally, Psalm 118 might have pointed to the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem after the return from exile in Babylonia. The invading Assyrian army had demolished the Temple when they destroyed the city of Jerusalem. In that sense, they had rejected the stones of the Temple. The rebuilding of the Temple would represent the honoring of those stones and lifting them up in dignity. It would represent the restoration of the people of Israel to their former glory.
If Psalm 118 was referring to the cornerstone of the Temple, that deepens the meaning of the metaphor that Peter applies to Jesus as the cornerstone. Jesus is the cornerstone of the new Temple, constructed out of the flesh and blood of those who believe in him, the church. Like any cornerstone, Jesus determines the course of this building. All the other stones are lined up with him.
This verse of Psalm 118 is quoted three other times in the New Testament. One of those times expands upon the quotation in the manner that I have outlined. That is in 1 Pt 2: 5-7:
“Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it says in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying a stone in Zion, a cornerstone, chosen and precious, and whoever believes in it shall not be put to shame.’ Therefore, its value is for you who have faith. But for those without faith: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’”