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The village of fools

November 24, 2008

Dr. Phil Geoffrion, Albion Evangelical Free Church, rural Cokato

Once there was a very poor village in the midst of a desolate and barren land. The inhabitants were half-starved, for they could barely grow any food in the rocky soil that surrounded their village.

One evening, a wealthy nobleman passed through the village. As the hour had grown late, he decided to stay the night. He called out to the first person he saw, “My good man! Could you show me the way to the inn?”

“The inn?” the villager asked. “We have no inn. We never had much use for one here. But won’t you come and stay at my house?” The nobleman accepted the humble invitation.

When the other villagers heard about the stranger who was to spend the night there, they quickly gathered together the best that they had and prepared a “feast” for him. The nobleman was so impressed with their hospitality, and so moved by their poverty, that he vowed to help them.

A few months later, a large freight wagon drawn by a team of horses arrived at the village. It was loaded down with grain, dried fruit, salted meat, and cheese. Soon, another wagon came, carrying bolts of warm, sturdy cloth for garments, and wood, bricks, and straw for repairing the shacks and hovels that the villagers called homes.

The people of the village received these gifts with great joy, realizing that their visitor had become their benefactor. The more learned among them sat down at once and wrote long thank you letters. Then, they held a town meeting and deliberated at great length about erecting a statue of their benefactor – if only they could afford to do it.

As the weeks, months, and years passed, the wagon loads continued to come regularly. After a long time, the villagers began to take their benefactor for granted. The once-regular letters of gratitude became an annual formality, a disagreeable duty, and soon, the people dispensed with the letters altogether.

Many years later, the nobleman, who by now had become even wealthier, was traveling through that part of the world. He decided to stop and visit “his” village. As he neared the place, he was pleased to see sturdy houses with thatched roofs where before flimsy shacks had stood.

But the surrounding fields looked as if they had lain fallow for years. The villagers, he noticed, had grown fat, and he saw that most of them were sitting idly in the middle of the day.

Through an open window, he saw a few women sewing dresses from the latest shipment of cloth. He overheard one of them complaining, “This miserable cloth! Why couldn’t we be sent some ready-sewn clothes?”

The nobleman approached a dour-faced young man who was coming toward him and asked, “My good fellow, do you know where I might find lodging for the night?”

The young man shrugged, “Why don’t you ask someone else?” he retorted. “I’m too busy. I’m the only one around these parts who works.”

“What sort of work do you do?” asked the nobleman.

The young man shrugged again in disgust. “I’m the town miller. Every so often we get a huge carload of grain, and I’m the one who gets stuck with the bothersome task of grinding it into flour.” He hurried off without another word or a backward glance.

Then, the nobleman searched and found the small house where he had first received shelter so long ago. He knocked, and a familiar face appeared. It was the son of the villager who had first given him lodging.

“I have traveled far, and I am weary,” he explained. “May I spend the night with your family?”

“We don’t appreciate strangers in these parts,” came the gruff reply, “but if you really must stay, there’s an inn down the road.”

Incensed, the nobleman turned and left the village. He immediately cancelled all further deliveries of food and supplies. Then the villagers, who by now had forgotten how to farm and how to work, found themselves in worse condition than before.

Those villagers acted foolishly. They had forgotten their benefactor, and had neglected to give him thanks. They had taken his gifts for granted, and even despised some of them because of the inconvenience of putting them to use. Perhaps worst of all, they had not recognized their benefactor when he came to them, and they had treated him badly.

Many people today are like those foolish villagers. They forget their Divine Benefactor, who daily supplies their most basic needs. Instead of grumbling, like the women of the village who were too lazy to sew, and the miller who despised his trade, they should be grateful.

Let’s not be fools this Thanksgiving – even with all the things in our lives, our country, and our world that could be better. Let’s remember to give thanks to the One to whom we owe all that we are, all that we have, and all we ever hope to be and have. Let us be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5.20).

My appreciation to Joel Kleinbaum, who shared this story many years ago.)