The readings are from the catholic lectionary for daily mass while the headlines are chosen to keep my thinking real:
SHOOTINGS AT MARYSVILLE – PILCHUCK SCHOOL
Each one of us has been given his own share of grace, given as Christ allotted it. It was said that he would:
When he ascended to the height, he captured prisoners,
he gave gifts to men.
When it says, ‘he ascended’, what can it mean if not that he descended right down to the lower regions of the earth? The one who rose higher than all the heavens to fill all things is none other than the one who descended. And to some, his gift was that they should be apostles; to some, prophets; to some, evangelists; to some, pastors and teachers; so that the saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ. In this way we are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself.
Then we shall not be children any longer, or tossed one way and another and carried along by every wind of doctrine, at the mercy of all the tricks men play and their cleverness in practising deceit. If we live by the truth and in love, we shall grow in all ways into Christ, who is the head by whom the whole body is fitted and joined together, every joint adding its own strength, for each separate part to work according to its function. So the body grows until it has built itself up, in love.
Paul and many of his contemporaries used spatial language where we would use personal and intepersonal language. The descent of Messiah Jesus is his active humility and sacrifice out of faithfulness to God’s truth. His ascent into the highest places is his living influence upon those who trust him which is stronger than any other determinant of their lives. To say that Messiah Jesus “fills all things” is to assert his unity with God, and that there is no dimension of existence where his way cannot be trusted and followed. Those who trust him find that their lives are no longer a possession but a gift: what they are is a result of Messiah’s generosity, and they in turn become gifts to the Messianic community, in various capacities, so that it is strengthened by what they are and do.
The community is imagined as an organic unity, a body composed of all believers everywhere with Messiah Jesus as the head. Each believer is an essential part of the body with a specific function. We have a children’s song:
God made me as I am
Part of creation’s plan;
No one else will ever be
The part of God’s plan that’s me.
There is no difference of rank in the body of the Messiah but there is a precise allocation of function as in any body.
This passage is a profound depiction of individual life in itself -it is best experienced as a gift; and in relation to to the community – each unique person has a unique role in its corporate life. No one else in the Roman Empire was articulating anything as penetrating and helpful at this time. Quite apart from his Chriatin faith, we should recognise Paul as one of the greatest thinkers of the ancient world.
Of course Paul says that this flowering of personal and communal life happens through trust in Messiah Jesus who opens people up to the generosity of the creator and the shared life of the Spirit.
Some people arrived and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices. At this he said to them, ‘Do you suppose these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.’
He told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it but found none. He said to the man who looked after the vineyard, “Look here, for three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and finding none. Cut it down: why should it be taking up the ground?” “Sir,” the man replied “leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”’
It was one of the assumptions of Jewish theology that disaster was God’s punishment for sin. This had been challenged in some Biblical writings, most notably in Job, but it remained the most popular interpretation of disaster. Jesus was impatient with all that. Doubtless, he says, these unfortunate people were sinners but no more than everyone else. So, no, according to Jesus, God was not singling them out for punishment. Still, who knows when some bloodthirsty tyrant (or crazed Jihadist) may pounce, some tower collapse (or Ebola virus be transmitted)? Death lurks round any corner and who is ready for it? Only those who have turned towards God, Jesus says.(“repent” is not a good tranlsation.) This is a similar warning to that given in the parable of the rich farmer whose soul is suddenly required of him.
Jesus was offering his people a specific call to “turn to God”, to welcome the rule of God as demonstrated by his ministry into their lives. He indeed is like the “man looking after the vineyard” who asks the owner for a bit more time for the barren tree. Jesus hints to his people that there us still time, but not much. The time when Israel itself may be cut down is maybe not far off.
Jesus’ wisdom is charactreised by its vivid, often black, humour, its sobriety and its relevance. I don’t think him wise because he is Son of God. I think him Son of God because he is wise.