Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people." (When it says, "He ascended,"; what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in very way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
I rejoiced when I heard them say:
'Let us go to God's house.'
And now our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem. (R./)
Jerusalem is built as a city
It is there that the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord. (R./)
For Israel's law it is,
there to praise the Lord's name.
There were set the thrones of judgement
of the house of David. (R./)
Some people arrived and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. Jesus asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."
Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next ear, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"
The ideals of Christian unity are highlighted in Ephesians. Together, all believers form the one "body of Christ," still growing towards the state of perfection God wants for us. Through our union with Christ the whole body grows and the members are kept united in love.
The theme of misfortune is discussed in the story about the Galilean pilgrims who were killed by Pontius Pilate and others who were killed by a falling tower at Siloam, just outside the walls of Jerusalem. Their fate shows how innocent people are just as subject to misfortune as the guilty. In spite of the general biblical view that sinful behaviour will be punished, it does not follow that people who suffer must have been sinners. So much of the suffering in this world is caused by other people, as in the case of Jesus' own passion and death.
Positively, we are called to form one body in Christ, and each has specific gifts to contribute to the health of that body. Paul lists some of the main gifts (charisms) : apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, all meant to build up the body of Christ. Their many services are for the good of the whole community, just as all parts in the human body have a vital part to play. This analogy is more fully developed elsewhere, " If all the members were alike, where would the body be?" (1 Cor 12:19).
In the church, each member has a duty of care for the others. But in practice, the variety of gifts and roles can stir envy, rivalry, or even arrogance. So the administrator must beware of micro-managing, teachers must not be dogmatic, pragmatists must not neglect some study and reflection, nor should the contemplative refuse to do any work. Each has a function of service "to build up the body of Christ," in what we would now call a spirit of dialogue and collegiality.
All parables make us ponder what they might mean. Jesus imagines a withering fig tree that has failed to bear fruit for the past three years. The reaction of the owner seems quite normal. That fig tree must be cut down because it is only wasting space in the vineyard.
But the gardener had a different perspective. Looking closely at the ailing fig tree he saw that with care it could still bear fruit. Experience had taught him a more hopeful vision. With the help of some fertiliser all was not lost and the fig tree could revive and fruit again.
This is how God regards us. In spite of what we have failed to do up to now, He knows all we are capable of doing in the future. God sees the potential in each of us; and indeed, that's how we must regard each other and everything in life, with hopeful eyes. Like the vineyard gardener, we need to be patient, able to wait, ready to see beneath the unpromising surface to the faint green shoots of new potential.