Yesterday's gospel was the parable of the workers in the vineyard, Matthew 20:1-16 The parable is self-evident.
By it the primitive church, comprised of Jews and Gentiles, learns that though the Jews were the First to be called into God's vineyard, the church, they should not despise the Gentiles who "stood in the marketplace idle" for centuries. But that both were now on equal footing before God, for the sake of Christ. Christ who was First, made himself Last, so that sinners could be First before God. Justified, that is, by faith in him.
What I find especially intriguing, however, are the verses immediately following our parable. To wit: Matthew 20:17-19 17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 "See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day."
The Scribes and Chief Priests were the ministers of the Word and Sacrament in the Old Testament. By offering the prescribed sacrifices and by the teaching and preaching of the Scriptures they forgave sins, in light of, and for the sake of the Christ who was yet to come.
But the great wonder of this particular prophecy of the Lord is that what had only been signs and promises would now be placed, flesh and blood incarnate, into the hands of priests and scribes. The Word made flesh and now dwelling among them. Little did this generation of priests and scribes know their hands were about to offer the Great Sacrifice that had been promised since Genesis 3:15. But not by them alone. But the Lord was also “handed over” to the Gentiles, they too would now play their part, and carry out the death sentence that reconciles Jew and Gentile alike, with God.
The "skeleton" of promise that priests and scribes put forward for centuries by the Spirit's inspiration, is now "fleshed out" by Jesus, the Word made flesh. Or said another way: the cup put forth by them, is now filled by Jesus.
As Jesus was "handed over," a very technical term in the New Testament for the preaching of the Gospel, and the administration of the Sacraments (for these are the church's true tradition) -- Jesus is still "handed over" to the largely-Gentile church today by God's New Testament priests, as they administer the Word and Sacraments. Not handed over, now, for death, but for life and salvation, so that those who are Lost and Last because of sin, are made First with Christ.
Let us now conclude with one phrase from Sunday's epistle, Philippians 1:20 where St. Paul writes that: "Christ will be magnified (ESV: honored) in my body." St. Paul was likely thinking of martyrdom, and for persecuted church (ca. 55AD - 313 AD) martyrdom was considered all but a sacrament. One could get no closer to Christ, or be in closer communion with him, than to die with/for him.
But the more common way that Christ is magnified in our bodies is in our reception of his living flesh, into our dying flesh, which imparts life and immortality to us all.
Personal confession time: These thoughts took full form in my mind AFTER my sermon yesterday (where I danced around their edges). But fortunately we celebrate mass on Wednesday evening at CLC, and they will receive much fuller expression. God grant it. Amen.