The Kingdom of God is like … A man sweeping sand on the seashore
There once was a woman of wealth and esteem who owned a large house on the ocean. The property included a long stretch of beach.
One day this wealthy woman approached a young man who was puttering around the small seaside town in which they both lived, and she asked him if he was interested in a job.
“Maybe.” he replied.
She continued, “You would work five days a week for four hours in the early morning and four hours in the late evening each day. Never more, and never less.”
“What does it pay?”
She explained the compensation package to him.
“That’s a good wage,” he replied. “What would I be doing?”
“I own a beach front property, and I need someone to sweep the beach.”
“You mean rake it and keep it clean?” he questioned.
“No, I mean sweep it,” she explained. “I’d provide you two brooms, and each day, for eight hours a day, you would sweep. You’d also find that at those hours the beach attracts solitary visitors. If someone comes to the beach, I’d like you to ask him to join you in your sweeping. I would ask, however, that you never allow any one person to work with you for more than an hour. So, what do you say?”
The young man agreed.
For years the man swept this stretch of beach. Sometimes he pushed the sand into the ocean. Other times he swept it down the length of the shore. On several occasions he requested additional equipment to better remove the sand, but each time his employer refused saying, “Just sweep the beach. It’s all I require.”
And over the course of the years, the woman’s initial words were proved true. In the early morning hours surrounding dawn and in the late evening hours just after dusk individuals often showed up on the beach. And the man remained true to his word. Each time a person came, he would approach her and ask her to sweep with him.
Some joined him, others did not. Some swept for the full hour, some only for minutes. But each time, they talked and shared, and laughed about the woman who was paying a man simply to sweep sand.
The years were not always easy on the man as he worked and as he aged. His hands grew thick with calluses; his skin grew freckled; and he acquired scars from surgeries and cancers. Then one day, after many years of service, the man decided that it was time to retire. And so, at the end of his last week he made his way up to his employer’s house.
When he arrived, she met him as she always did, thanking him for his work and handing him his weekly check. But, this time the man replied, “I am so thankful for all these years of work, ma’am. I have lived and loved, raised a family, and grown old in your employ. But, I am afraid that the work has gotten the best of me. I just don’t see how I can sweep your sand anymore.”
“I understand,” she replied. “You have been a good and faithful worker. I am thankful for your years of service.”
As the man turned to leave, a questioning guilt pulled him back. “Before I leave, ma’am, I need to settle something in my mind.”
“Go on,” she encouraged him.
“Somehow I thought that eventually I would get the sand cleared for you, but after all these years, I have nothing on that beach to show for my labor. There was really nowhere to put the sand, so for all these years, I’ve really just been moving it around. I mean, if you had allowed me some equipment, or perhaps a team of workers, I am certain we could have cleared the beach. But, as it stands, the beach looks very much today like it did all those years ago when you first hired me to sweep it.”
“That is true,” she replied.
“Well, I guess what I’m asking is whether you are pleased with my work. I mean, to my thinking, I have failed in the task you gave me. I suppose I can’t retire without confessing the feeling I have that my life and my work have not been worthwhile.”
“I see.” She looked at him kindly. “I did not hire you to remove the sand. I hired you to sweep the beach.”
“I don’t mean to sound discourteous, ma’am, but I’m not sure I understand the difference.”
She continued, “It was for this beach that I bought the house. You see, this beach attracts people who have lost hope, and they come early in the morning and late at night to look out into the ocean. Those are critical moments for each of them, and for many, their futures are decided on this beach. And so, I decided long ago that I would hire a person to be there when they arrived, who would invite them to join in an impossible task. For all these years, someone has been here. You swept during the week, and others swept on the weekend. This beach has never been empty, and many have uncovered hope while sweeping its sands.”
– J. Thomas Johnson