Many years ago there was a little village on a rocky seacoast. Storms often battered that coast line harshly and the waters were treacherous. Many ships were driven onto the rocks, and over the years the lives of many sailors were lost because of the raging seas.
One day one of the local residents decided that it was time to build a light house and a life saving rescue station so that ships could be warned about the dangers, and guided away from the rocks, and the sailors on boats that were in trouble could be rescued. He galvanised some of the men and women in the local community to support him in his plan, so that no more lives would be lost in the icy waters. They worked hard to secure the necessary funds, developed the plans and began to build. It took a monumental effort, but in the end the tower was constructed. They set a beacon in the tower, and organised a look out system. They bought boats and learned how to use them in the rough swirling waters. Bit by bit they became all that the man had suggested that they could be. They were in business, the business of saving lives.
It did not take long for the effects of what they were doing to become known far and wide. People celebrated that fewer ships were on the rocks, and when tragedy did occur, and the alarm was sounded, the brave men and women who volunteered at the lighthouse rescue centre risked their own lives to rescue those who had been cast into the raging icy waters.
Every person who was plucked out of the stormy waters was celebrated, there names were written in a book, so that the rescuers could remember what had been done, but they never knew how many boats had been saved by the warning beam of the light house from landing on the rocks. There had probably been more than they could begin to imagine. Within a few short years, people came from a great distance to study their light house and rescue centre, and to use it as a model for new ones further down the coast line.
One day someone suggested that, since they all spent so much time at the light house that they should gather there occasionally and enjoy good fellowship. And soon they began to get together (at first infrequently, and then more often) at the lighthouse. Next, it was decided that if they were going to spend so much time there, they must make the place more comfortable. So arrangements were made to heat the light house and the rescue centre. The grey walls were painted a brilliant white. Some of the walls were paneled; rugs were put on the floors to disguise the bare concrete; a fine kitchen was installed with a handsome stove; and over time the light house became a great place to spend time waiting for the alarm to be sounded. The light house soon became the centre of life in the little village, and gradually the village grew into a town.
One night a fierce storm blew in, as storms had blown in for years. Many ships were tossed on the jagged rocks, and the volunteers at the light house spent long hours picking sailors from the bitter cold icy waters and taking them to the lighthouse, where they were fed and provided with dry clothing. This had happened many times over the years, but this time, after the storm subsided and the sailors who had been rescued had all left the rescue centre, some of the volunteers were angry.
The storm seemed to them to be colder and wetter than any they had experienced before. They didn’t see why they had to go out and rescue people, surely those sailors could have rescued themselves. To make matters even worse, the sailors who had been rescued had made mud stains on the carpets, in fact the carpets were ruined. The kitchen had been left in a mess, not to mention the stove. What right did these rescued sailors have to come and mess up the rescue centre? they wondered.
All of the volunteers came together for a meeting. Some argued that that was just what happened when you were in the business of saving lives. Others argued that whilst the sailors needed to be saved they should not be allowed into the rescue centre when they came ashore. All agreed that the nicer rooms should be kept just for the volunteers and no rescued sailors should be allowed in them at all. For the first time some of the volunteers decided that they would not be going out to sea again.
Some time later, another storm blew in; and about half of the volunteers went out in the boats, and again picked sailors from the wild waters. The ones that stayed back in the rescue centre played games and enjoyed each others company. They realised that looking after each other was just as important, if not more important than saving people at sea, and it was much less dangerous.
When the next storm arrived a few less volunteers went out in the rescue boats. And when the storm after that arrived even fewer braved the choppy waters. It took a long time, but eventually there were not enough volunteers to staff even one of the boats. The volunteers held another meeting. It was agreed that times had changed, that sailors at sea should be able to rescue themselves, and that the task of the light house volunteers should be focused only on looking after the volunteers themselves, and their families. The decision was voted on, and most people agreed: saving lives was too dangerous, the task ahead was to maintain the light house and the rescue centre as a social club for all those connected with it.
A small group disagreed, some of them were sailors who had previously been rescued from the raging seas and had become volunteers, and they knew how important the business of saving lives was. So they moved a little farther up the coast and started to build a new light house and rescue centre for themselves. Meanwhile, back at the old light house the boats that were no longer needed were sold and the rescue equipment was stored away. The light house was now a landmark within the town, so they decided that the building should be maintained at all costs, and the beacon should still be lit every evening, and that is how it has stayed.
The words that we heard from Jesus in our Gospel reading today are so simple, so straight forward, that they need no explanation. But just because they are simply does not make them hugely challenge. The Church is called to carry on doing what Jesus did – welcoming and drawing people into faith, serving people by helping to meet their practical needs (like giving someone who is parched in the desert a glass of water). And when we do these things for others, it is like we are doing them for him.
Do it, or don’t do it. That is our choice.