With the help of a Salvation Army-style trombone, Bob Dylan sings with his wry humor that “they” will stone you for “trying to be so good” or when you’re “tryin’ to go home,” for “walkin’ on the floor,” for “walkin’ out the door,” and even when you are “young and able” or sitting “at the breakfast table.” Given the way his fans turned on him time and again for not singing what they wanted, it’s no surprise that “they” will stone you “when you’re playing your guitar.” Seems like “they” will stone you no matter what you do or don’t do. Then, after stoning you, they “will say you are brave” and then “they’ll stone you when you are set down in your grave.” As if “they” haven’t stoned you enough already. In the refrain, Dylan sings that he “wouldn’t feel so all alone/Everybody must get stoned.” Usually, persecution is “they” (i.e. everybody) against a victim, such as what happened in the stoning of Stephen. But if everybody gets stoned, then everybody is a victim and there’s nobody left to be “they” who will stone you. If we all become Stephen, not only do we get stoned; we “see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). This was the moment of epiphany for Stephen that transformed him into a forgiving victim like Jesus. In his speech to the Sanhedrin that outraged his listeners, he was not exactly a model of tactful diplomacy.
In his first epistle, Peter identifies Jesus with the living stone rejected by the builders that has become the cornerstone in Psalm 118. Jesus identified himself as this cornerstone at the end of his parable of the evil workers in the vineyard who ganged up on the owner’s son and killed him. (Mt. 21:33-41) Stephen was killed by stones the builders rejected and left outside of Jerusalem when they were building the temple. Jesus was threatened with stoning several times and escaped until his time had come and he gave himself up to the cross. When Jesus says that he is the way, the truth and the life and that nobody can come to the Father except through him (Jn. 14:6), he is saying that the only way to God is by way of the stone that was rejected. Rejected by whom? If we think it is other people who have rejected this living stone, we are probably right but we fail to understand ourselves in this. Moreover, we are rejecting the people we blame for these rejections and so we stumble over them and they stumble over us. Speaking for myself, I don’t like being rejected and I don’t instinctively feel that being rejected is the way to God. I would rather be the keystone in my own scheme of things. So, actually, I reject this living stone all the time and I stumble constantly over my fantasies of being the cornerstone of my own life. Much as I like Bob Dylan, I’d rather leave him all alone rather than get stoned.
But Jesus the living stone is abundantly forgiving and he waits for us to stop stumbling around and come to him. Peter tells us that it turns out Jesus is building “a spiritual house,” “a holy priesthood” out of each one of us and he is building it out the parts of us that we reject, out of our failures, not our successes, which makes our failures our successes. Well, Dylan said “there is no success like failure and failure is no success at all.” Stones can be hard and dead, useful only for stoning people. Our hearts can be just as hard and we stumble on our stony hearts until we come to the living stone who wants to make us living stones. Living stones don’t pick up stones to throw at other people; they pick up stones to build into the spiritual house. In this spiritual house, there are many dwelling places where there is room for us to grow further into the abundant life of Jesus the living stone, enough room that we do not need to stumble over one another and yet a house where we are all together and we don’t have to be so all alone.