Sunday, May 10, is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Mass readings: Acts 6:1-7; Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12.
Listen to the word! This basically sums up what Peter has to say today in the second reading. Yet he delivers this simple message with an elegant metaphor describing both our personal relationships with the Risen Lord Jesus and our collective relationship with him as his Church. Peter likens Christ to “a living stone,” and he admonishes all believers to come to him so that they, too, can become living stones, able to be built into “a spiritual house.” As Peter intimates, this spiritual house is the Church, the place where we are able to offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” This would have indeed been a striking image for the early Christians, who would have begun to follow Christ while the Temple was still standing and would have remembered it after its destruction. Through this metaphor, Peter tells his audience that they have been transformed through the grace of Christ into living stones that comprise a New Temple in which a new and more effective sacrifice is offered: a sacrifice of sacramental praise, modeled on the instruction of Jesus Christ.
This was, of course, a difficult reality for many Jewish people to get used to. There continued to be some Jewish adversaries to the Church — some who began to follow Christ but fell away and others who never followed Christ in the first place. Regarding these people, Peter has a challenging statement: “They stumble by disobeying the word, as is their destiny.” Now, it might seem as though Peter is espousing a kind of fatalism here; that these people were destined by God to stumble, such that they had no choice in the matter. His point, however, is somewhat different, and to understand it, we need to look at the context established by his metaphor of the living stones.
First of all, in verses 6-7, Peter refers to Jesus Christ as the cornerstone for the people who follow him. In addition to being the original living stone, he is the stone that provides the solid and stable foundation for the “spiritual house,” into which the people are being built. However, for the people who do not listen to him, he becomes a “stumbling stone,” or more literally translated, a “stone of scandal.” In other words, Christ the living stone is received and experienced by people in different ways: For some, he is the cornerstone that provides stability; for others, he is a stumbling stone that creates difficulty.
The source of the difference between these two experiences is, according to Peter, within the people themselves. Going back to that difficult line in verse 8, it is “the ones who do not listen to (or, disobey) the Word” who stumble, meaning that their stumbling is an outcome of their disobedience. Further, Peter’s statement that they stumble, “as is their destiny,” can be more literally translated “as they were also appointed.” While the Greek verb “appoint” (tithēmi) sometimes denotes God’s act of determining things, here Peter is using it in another, less common sense: God consigns them to that which they have chosen. In this, he is expressing something analogous to Paul in Romans 1:24, where he states that “God handed over the evil ones to impurity through the lusts of their hearts.”
We who are presented with this metaphor by Peter today also have a choice to make: We either accept Christ as our cornerstone, thus allowing him to transform us anew into living stones for his spiritual house, or we disobey him, thereby setting down the path of stumbling. As Peter indicates, the way we make the choice to accept Christ is simple: Listen to the Word!
Dominican Father Jordan Schmidt is an instructor
in sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Faculty of the
Immaculate Conception at the
Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.