A reflection for the fourth Sunday of Easter

Steven D. Greydanus reflects on the readings for April 21, 2024.
Catholic Voices

Readings (Year B):

Acts 4:8 – 12
Psalms 118:1, 8 – 9, 21 – 23, 26, 28, 29
1 John 3:1 – 2
John 10:11 – 18

Reflection: Is Jesus truly our cornerstone?

Americans love underdog success stories: for example, transformational figures who faced early rejection or dismissal, like Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, and Oprah Winfrey. The lives of the saints include many such underdog stories, like Saint Joseph of Cupertino, who was reportedly widely scorned as a feckless good-for-nothing before becoming known for his great holiness and miraculous gifts. Similar stories fill the Old Testament: a childless patriarch; a stammering prophet; a heroic prostitute; younger sons chosen by God above their older brothers; longsuffering, childless wives blessed with children of promise. 

The refrain from today’s responsorial psalm resonates with this theme: “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.” This Old Testament underdog metaphor is repeatedly applied in the New Testament to Jesus—first by Christ himself in the synoptic gospels, and then by Peter in today’s first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles. Speaking to the leaders of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, the council of elders, Peter pointedly tells them that they are the builders who rejected Jesus, God’s chosen cornerstone. 

In today’s gospel reading from John, Jesus expresses a similar idea with a different metaphor: Here, Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep—in contrast to hirelings who run away when the sheep are threatened, because they aren’t their sheep! 


In context, Jesus, like Peter, is criticizing Jewish leaders—in this case, the Pharisees. Both of these readings reflect polemical tensions between early Christians and Jews: tensions rooted in the polarizing figure of Jesus himself, but recorded in these texts at a time when the young Jesus movement was itself another underdog success story. Of course, the young church was so successful that before long it was no longer an underdog, and in time those early Jewish-Christian tensions metastasized into centuries of Christian antisemitism and oppression of Jewish people. 

In the wake of the Holocaust, Catholic leaders have made concerted efforts to confront this terrible history and to work to improve Catholic-Jewish relations. These efforts call us to be aware, when we hear readings like these, of the enormous historical and contextual differences between “then” and “now.” Too many American Christians are still attached to the idea of Christians as scrappy, persecuted underdogs—a fantasy obscuring the issues faced by actual minorities and marginalized groups. These issues have deepened in recent years with increasingly blatant expressions of antisemitism both inside and outside the Church, particularly in the wake of the Hamas terror attack against Israeli Jews and Israel’s crushing military action in Gaza. 

Of course we’re all prone to identifying with the “right” characters in every story. We’re the sheep who hear the voice of the good shepherd; other people are straying sheep, hirelings, the builders who rejected the cornerstone. What “other voices” might we be prone to listening to? Is Jesus truly the cornerstone in every area of our lives? 

About the author

Steven D. Greydanus

Steven D. Greydanus has been writing about film since 2000. He is the founder of DecentFilms.com, a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, and a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Newark.

Add comment