“The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.” This quote from today’s gospel is well-known to anyone familiar with Scripture.
Psalm 118 is the Old Testament source of Jesus’ quote. It is a psalm of thanksgiving, in which the psalmist praises God for delivering him from pagan armies. The ‘stone’ seems to be a reference to the temple. It is not completely clear why it has been rejected. Notes to one translation suggest that it is the nation of Israel, rejected by worldly planners of empires, that now takes its place among the political powers of the world.
In the Gospel, Jesus’ meaning is plain. By ‘the builders’ he means the Jews. They are the chosen people of God. They are the nation that was faithful to the law of Moses. And, they worshiped the one true God while the surrounding nations worshiped a multitude of man-made idols or forces of nature. Now they are rejecting Jesus, the son of God.
My recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land brought new significance to these words of Jesus. Mount Calvary, the site of the crucifixion, was called the ‘place of the skull’ because it was shaped roughly like a skull. The reason for this odd shape was that it had been a quarry from which builders took rock for their construction projects.
The Rocks Remaining
But the rock remaining at Calvary was rejected as too soft. In fact, the basilica which houses the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is a fascinating place. In the Holy Land, believers built churches at the sites where they thought Jesus experienced certain events. The most important of these is the basilica where the crucifixion and resurrection occurred.
There are various chapels in this basilica. One is a small chapel marking the tomb where Jesus was buried and rose from the dead. It is enclosed. In the inner area is an altar and space for about eight people. Before this is a bigger space for maybe twenty more people.
Outside this chapel is a constant line of people waiting, praying, hoping to get in. Groups with reservations get inside the chapel for thirty minutes at a time.
Dozens of feet away from this is the altar of the Crucifixion. There is a stairway leading up to this altar, which is on top of Calvary. Tour guides can take you around the stairway to a wall which supports this mezzanine sanctuary where the altar is. Part of the wall is glass, and you can see the rock which makes up Calvary. It is split with faults, presumably caused by earthquakes. It looks soft.
This means that Jesus was crucified on a hill of rock that was rejected by builders. This same rock then supported the event of our salvation, Jesus’ death on the cross.
Peter explains in his first epistle that Jesus is the living stone rejected by the builders. Jesus is a stumbling block for nonbelievers. We who are united to Jesus, though, form living stones in the spiritual house of God.
Each one of us is important in this spiritual house. May we keep this in mind, and be eager to raise spiritual sacrifices to our great God.
We want to thank Father Mike for his 2.5 years of GVM reflection writing and overall support of our Ministry. This will be his last reflection. He has been assigned additional duties in his Parish and Dicocese, and will not have time to write a reflection each month. Grace to you, Father!