But 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.
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He 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 basic dynamics of Christian unity are highlighted in today's lovely text from Ephesians. Together, all believers form the one "body of Christ," still growing to its full stature to form the perfection God wants for us. Through Christ the whole body grows and the members are kept in a loving union. The theme of unity is not as clear in the Gospel passage, yet somehow the Galileans slaughtered by Pontius Pilate and those who were killed by a falling tower at Siloam, were also linked with other men and women. Their fate shows how the innocent may suffer along with the guilty. While the Bible holds that suffering awaits sinful people, it does not follow that suffering people are always sinners; rather, much of the pain and loss suffered by people is caused by others, so close are the bonds of flesh, nationality, race and family.
On the more positive side, all of us are called to form one body in Christ, and we have each specific gifts to contribute to building up that body. Paul lists some of these active charisms : apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, in roles of service for the faithful to build up the body of Christ. Their diverse forms of service are for the good of the whole community, just as the various parts in the human body provides for its living functions. This analogy is more fully developed elsewhere, " If all the members were alike, where would the body be?" (1 Cor 12:19).
Ideally, each church member draws strength from the others and is helped by them. But in practice, the variety of gifts and roles can provoke envy, antagonism, and even dominance or arrogance. The administrator must beware of over-administering, the teacher not try to rule on all problems, the practical-minded person not totally abandon study and reflection, or the spiritual-minded person leave everything to prayer. Each gift must function in a genuine role of service "to build up the body of Christ," in what we would now call a spirit of dialogue and collegiality!
Many of the parables leave us thinking and reflecting; they encourage us to tease out what they might mean. In this morning's parable we have a fig tree in a vineyard that seems as good as dead. It has failed to bear fruit for three successive years. The reaction of the owner of the vineyard seems quite reasonable; have the fig tree cut down because it is only taking up space that could be used for vines. However, the owner's worker had a different perspective. He looked at the apparently useless fig tree and he saw the possibility that it could still bear fruit. He had a more generous vision of the fig tree, a more hopeful vision. He felt all was not lost; there was still time for the fig tree to come good. The parable may be saying that this is the way the Lord looks upon us. When the Lord looks on us he sees not just what we have failed to do in the past but what we are capable of doing in the future. He looks on us with generous and hopeful eyes. That is the way we are to look at each other and, indeed, at every situation in life. Like the worker in the vineyard, we need to be patient, to be prepared to wait, and to be able to see beneath the unpromising surface to the faint signs of new life that may be there.