Smiling Sheep

Bible Text: Matthew 25: 31-46 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Have you ever wondered, why we smile? Is smiling universal? How is it that we know a smile means an expression of happiness? Maybe these questions do not keep you awake at night but they are rather curious. Did you know that Charles Darwin actually had a theory about smiling? He said that “facial expressions indicate the intention of animals-and by extension, humans”. In his explanation, an animal will bare its teeth as a warning to other animals. He suggested that humans co-opted this behaviour as a greeting. I prefer the answer given by researchers at Marquette University, a Jesuit University in Milwaukee. Dr. Nakia Gordon, assistant professor of psychology said, “Smiling, like most facial expressions, communicates to those around us what we are feeling. Individuals with relatively little contact with the industrialized world were able to accurately identify that a smile meant happiness. It has not been resolved whether expressions are learned or innate, but it does seem that all humans use the same expressions to communicate basic emotions.” In fact, research shows that if one smiles during a particularly difficult or distressing task it results in better emotional adjustment at a later point. Meaning that smiles not only communicate to others what we are feeling but also help us experience happiness. Basically the jury is still out about why we smile but it is universal and can have universal effects. I believe it is innate. Smiling is something we do starting at a very early age. Of course there are cynics that say a Baby’s smile is just gas, but it is rather intriguing how a smile can affect those around us.
We may not feel we have a lot to smile about with regards to our Gospel passage. Despite struggling with the two previous parables, this parable, is one of my favourites. However, the more I studied it the more distress I got, the more I had to smile through it. Some scholars and commentators do not think of this passage from Matthew 25 as a parable. It is true that it comes across as more of a vision than a parable in the traditional sense and the Jewish listeners would have understood this imagery well. The opening image is that of a king seated on the throne. This reflects many images from Hebraic apocalyptic literature. The closest parallel is found in the book of Daniel when Daniel has a vision of a king coming from the clouds ready to judge humanity. It is this judgement that has me a little worried. But before we touch on this judgement we need to touch upon a few other important details. It is the fact that this story has a meaning and a moral that I count it as a parable. It also deals with something that was very familiar to Jesus’ context, the sacrifial lambs and goats. It is for this reason that I count it as a parable.
At the very beginning it states that “All the nations will be gathered”. This phrase has puzzled, relieved, and concerned many a commentator. The Greek translation is panta ta ethne which literally means “all the peoples” or “all ethnicities”. The NRSV, the version we use, translates ethne to gentiles in some contexts and nations in others. Some people have understood that the ethne that are gathered are those within the Christian faith, others have understood it as those outside the Christian faith. I take a much more universalist approach that it is neither about those within our outside the church but rather all humanity, all nations in the truest sense. This can b a bit controversial but in my understanding of salvation it is for all people not just an elite few. This universal understanding goes both ways in this parable. The collection of sheep and goats were made up of all people but also those who are counted as the least of these represent all people- not just those within the church.
There is also an interesting link in all three parables that we have encountered over the last three weeks. In every single one there has been the element of surprise. The foolish bridesmaids were surprised to discover that the bridegroom was not coming on time and that they had run out of oil. The servants were surprised when the master was delayed. We are surprised when the third servant is demoralized for not taking big risks with the money. In this parable, BOTH the sheep and the goats are surprised. This concerns me and excites me and brings me back to this idea of why we smile. The point is that the righteous and the unrighteous have no idea that they did or did not serve the King when serving those in need. The sheep did what they did not because they expected a reward but because in seeing those in need they responded. The so-called sheep had no idea they were doing anything good or righteous when they fed the hungry, gave to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, gave clothing to the naked, took care of the sick, or visited the prisoners. They are just as shocked as the goats when Jesus tells them that when they did these things they were doing it to him. Like a simple smile, it was within their nature to be compassionate and kind. They served the needy because there was a need to fill.
So let us return to this idea of the judgement. If we believe that we are justified by faith and not by works, than theoretically this passage has very little to offer us, we are not the ones who will be judged because we have faith. But we must remember that Matthew is not writing from a grace versus works dichotomy. That theological debate came centuries after this Gospel was written. For Matthew the gospel is all about doing what Jesus says. In his Gospel Jesus commissions his disciples and says, “Obey everything I have commanded you.” However, he is not oblivious to grace either. For example, Matthew’s Jesus does not instruct the disciples that they should become the salt of the earth or light of the world; he tells them they are. For Matthew there was not debate- faith leads to works.
The fact that the sheep and goats are surprised means that it isn’t solely about works. For Matthew, and I would argue this is what Jesus is trying to teach the disciples in all the Gospels, ethical behaviour is indeed a response to Jesus’ commands. However, it does not result from effort, from trying hard, instead it comes from being human towards all humanity.
There is a Jewish proverb that says, “My neighbour’s physical need is my spiritual need”. Emmanuel Levinas, a 20th century philosopher would often refer to this proverb when discussing Matthew 25. There is a convergence of practice and faith when there is care for the least of these. Like the natural ability for all people to smile and share happiness these acts are not works to guarantee a place for us in heaven or a reason for us to be judged as righteous but rather acts that are responses to God’s merciful grace. Righteous behaviour is not done for the sake of reward but to be apart of Christ’s kingdom, to be in the reign of Christ ,is to act as if our neighbour’s physical need is our spiritual need. What a reason to smile! Amen

November 23, 2014
Preacher:

Passage:

Matthew 25: 31-46

Service Type:

Have you ever wondered, why we smile? Is smiling universal? How is it that we know a smile means an expression of happiness? Maybe these questions do not keep you awake at night but they are rather curious. Did you know that Charles Darwin actually had a theory about smiling? He said that “facial expressions indicate the intention of animals-and by extension, humans”. In his explanation, an animal will bare its teeth as a warning to other animals. He suggested that humans co-opted this behaviour as a greeting. I prefer the answer given by researchers at Marquette University, a Jesuit University in Milwaukee. Dr. Nakia Gordon, assistant professor of psychology said, “Smiling, like most facial expressions, communicates to those around us what we are feeling. Individuals with relatively little contact with the industrialized world were able to accurately identify that a smile meant happiness. It has not been resolved whether expressions are learned or innate, but it does seem that all humans use the same expressions to communicate basic emotions.” In fact, research shows that if one smiles during a particularly difficult or distressing task it results in better emotional adjustment at a later point. Meaning that smiles not only communicate to others what we are feeling but also help us experience happiness. Basically the jury is still out about why we smile but it is universal and can have universal effects. I believe it is innate. Smiling is something we do starting at a very early age. Of course there are cynics that say a Baby's smile is just gas, but it is rather intriguing how a smile can affect those around us.
We may not feel we have a lot to smile about with regards to our Gospel passage. Despite struggling with the two previous parables, this parable, is one of my favourites. However, the more I studied it the more distress I got, the more I had to smile through it. Some scholars and commentators do not think of this passage from Matthew 25 as a parable. It is true that it comes across as more of a vision than a parable in the traditional sense and the Jewish listeners would have understood this imagery well. The opening image is that of a king seated on the throne. This reflects many images from Hebraic apocalyptic literature. The closest parallel is found in the book of Daniel when Daniel has a vision of a king coming from the clouds ready to judge humanity. It is this judgement that has me a little worried. But before we touch on this judgement we need to touch upon a few other important details. It is the fact that this story has a meaning and a moral that I count it as a parable. It also deals with something that was very familiar to Jesus' context, the sacrifial lambs and goats. It is for this reason that I count it as a parable.
At the very beginning it states that “All the nations will be gathered”. This phrase has puzzled, relieved, and concerned many a commentator. The Greek translation is panta ta ethne which literally means “all the peoples” or “all ethnicities”. The NRSV, the version we use, translates ethne to gentiles in some contexts and nations in others. Some people have understood that the ethne that are gathered are those within the Christian faith, others have understood it as those outside the Christian faith. I take a much more universalist approach that it is neither about those within our outside the church but rather all humanity, all nations in the truest sense. This can b a bit controversial but in my understanding of salvation it is for all people not just an elite few. This universal understanding goes both ways in this parable. The collection of sheep and goats were made up of all people but also those who are counted as the least of these represent all people- not just those within the church.
There is also an interesting link in all three parables that we have encountered over the last three weeks. In every single one there has been the element of surprise. The foolish bridesmaids were surprised to discover that the bridegroom was not coming on time and that they had run out of oil. The servants were surprised when the master was delayed. We are surprised when the third servant is demoralized for not taking big risks with the money. In this parable, BOTH the sheep and the goats are surprised. This concerns me and excites me and brings me back to this idea of why we smile. The point is that the righteous and the unrighteous have no idea that they did or did not serve the King when serving those in need. The sheep did what they did not because they expected a reward but because in seeing those in need they responded. The so-called sheep had no idea they were doing anything good or righteous when they fed the hungry, gave to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, gave clothing to the naked, took care of the sick, or visited the prisoners. They are just as shocked as the goats when Jesus tells them that when they did these things they were doing it to him. Like a simple smile, it was within their nature to be compassionate and kind. They served the needy because there was a need to fill.
So let us return to this idea of the judgement. If we believe that we are justified by faith and not by works, than theoretically this passage has very little to offer us, we are not the ones who will be judged because we have faith. But we must remember that Matthew is not writing from a grace versus works dichotomy. That theological debate came centuries after this Gospel was written. For Matthew the gospel is all about doing what Jesus says. In his Gospel Jesus commissions his disciples and says, “Obey everything I have commanded you.” However, he is not oblivious to grace either. For example, Matthew's Jesus does not instruct the disciples that they should become the salt of the earth or light of the world; he tells them they are. For Matthew there was not debate- faith leads to works.
The fact that the sheep and goats are surprised means that it isn't solely about works. For Matthew, and I would argue this is what Jesus is trying to teach the disciples in all the Gospels, ethical behaviour is indeed a response to Jesus' commands. However, it does not result from effort, from trying hard, instead it comes from being human towards all humanity.
There is a Jewish proverb that says, “My neighbour's physical need is my spiritual need”. Emmanuel Levinas, a 20th century philosopher would often refer to this proverb when discussing Matthew 25. There is a convergence of practice and faith when there is care for the least of these. Like the natural ability for all people to smile and share happiness these acts are not works to guarantee a place for us in heaven or a reason for us to be judged as righteous but rather acts that are responses to God's merciful grace. Righteous behaviour is not done for the sake of reward but to be apart of Christ's kingdom, to be in the reign of Christ ,is to act as if our neighbour's physical need is our spiritual need. What a reason to smile! Amen

Bible Text: Matthew 25: 31-46 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Have you ever wondered, why we smile? Is smiling universal? How is it that we know a smile means an expression of happiness? Maybe these questions do not keep you awake at night but they are rather curious. Did you know that Charles Darwin actually had a theory about smiling? He said that “facial expressions indicate the intention of animals-and by extension, humans”. In his explanation, an animal will bare its teeth as a warning to other animals. He suggested that humans co-opted this behaviour as a greeting. I prefer the answer given by researchers at Marquette University, a Jesuit University in Milwaukee. Dr. Nakia Gordon, assistant professor of psychology said, “Smiling, like most facial expressions, communicates to those around us what we are feeling. Individuals with relatively little contact with the industrialized world were able to accurately identify that a smile meant happiness. It has not been resolved whether expressions are learned or innate, but it does seem that all humans use the same expressions to communicate basic emotions.” In fact, research shows that if one smiles during a particularly difficult or distressing task it results in better emotional adjustment at a later point. Meaning that smiles not only communicate to others what we are feeling but also help us experience happiness. Basically the jury is still out about why we smile but it is universal and can have universal effects. I believe it is innate. Smiling is something we do starting at a very early age. Of course there are cynics that say a Baby’s smile is just gas, but it is rather intriguing how a smile can affect those around us.
We may not feel we have a lot to smile about with regards to our Gospel passage. Despite struggling with the two previous parables, this parable, is one of my favourites. However, the more I studied it the more distress I got, the more I had to smile through it. Some scholars and commentators do not think of this passage from Matthew 25 as a parable. It is true that it comes across as more of a vision than a parable in the traditional sense and the Jewish listeners would have understood this imagery well. The opening image is that of a king seated on the throne. This reflects many images from Hebraic apocalyptic literature. The closest parallel is found in the book of Daniel when Daniel has a vision of a king coming from the clouds ready to judge humanity. It is this judgement that has me a little worried. But before we touch on this judgement we need to touch upon a few other important details. It is the fact that this story has a meaning and a moral that I count it as a parable. It also deals with something that was very familiar to Jesus’ context, the sacrifial lambs and goats. It is for this reason that I count it as a parable.
At the very beginning it states that “All the nations will be gathered”. This phrase has puzzled, relieved, and concerned many a commentator. The Greek translation is panta ta ethne which literally means “all the peoples” or “all ethnicities”. The NRSV, the version we use, translates ethne to gentiles in some contexts and nations in others. Some people have understood that the ethne that are gathered are those within the Christian faith, others have understood it as those outside the Christian faith. I take a much more universalist approach that it is neither about those within our outside the church but rather all humanity, all nations in the truest sense. This can b a bit controversial but in my understanding of salvation it is for all people not just an elite few. This universal understanding goes both ways in this parable. The collection of sheep and goats were made up of all people but also those who are counted as the least of these represent all people- not just those within the church.
There is also an interesting link in all three parables that we have encountered over the last three weeks. In every single one there has been the element of surprise. The foolish bridesmaids were surprised to discover that the bridegroom was not coming on time and that they had run out of oil. The servants were surprised when the master was delayed. We are surprised when the third servant is demoralized for not taking big risks with the money. In this parable, BOTH the sheep and the goats are surprised. This concerns me and excites me and brings me back to this idea of why we smile. The point is that the righteous and the unrighteous have no idea that they did or did not serve the King when serving those in need. The sheep did what they did not because they expected a reward but because in seeing those in need they responded. The so-called sheep had no idea they were doing anything good or righteous when they fed the hungry, gave to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, gave clothing to the naked, took care of the sick, or visited the prisoners. They are just as shocked as the goats when Jesus tells them that when they did these things they were doing it to him. Like a simple smile, it was within their nature to be compassionate and kind. They served the needy because there was a need to fill.
So let us return to this idea of the judgement. If we believe that we are justified by faith and not by works, than theoretically this passage has very little to offer us, we are not the ones who will be judged because we have faith. But we must remember that Matthew is not writing from a grace versus works dichotomy. That theological debate came centuries after this Gospel was written. For Matthew the gospel is all about doing what Jesus says. In his Gospel Jesus commissions his disciples and says, “Obey everything I have commanded you.” However, he is not oblivious to grace either. For example, Matthew’s Jesus does not instruct the disciples that they should become the salt of the earth or light of the world; he tells them they are. For Matthew there was not debate- faith leads to works.
The fact that the sheep and goats are surprised means that it isn’t solely about works. For Matthew, and I would argue this is what Jesus is trying to teach the disciples in all the Gospels, ethical behaviour is indeed a response to Jesus’ commands. However, it does not result from effort, from trying hard, instead it comes from being human towards all humanity.
There is a Jewish proverb that says, “My neighbour’s physical need is my spiritual need”. Emmanuel Levinas, a 20th century philosopher would often refer to this proverb when discussing Matthew 25. There is a convergence of practice and faith when there is care for the least of these. Like the natural ability for all people to smile and share happiness these acts are not works to guarantee a place for us in heaven or a reason for us to be judged as righteous but rather acts that are responses to God’s merciful grace. Righteous behaviour is not done for the sake of reward but to be apart of Christ’s kingdom, to be in the reign of Christ ,is to act as if our neighbour’s physical need is our spiritual need. What a reason to smile! Amen