Many years ago there was a town in Greece where the people had become very hard-hearted and they were wicked as well. They were not kind to anyone who came to their city; whenever people came to ask them the way, or whether they would give them something to eat, or give them a place to sleep, these wicked people in this city would push them out. They were acting in this way because they were frightened and also because they wanted things only for themselves; they did not consider anyone else.
They were frightened of strangers when they came to their houses. Because the parents were like this, the children in the city used to run behind strangers and throw stones at them and make rude noises and rude faces at them. We would now say that those people had no idea of hospitality. (That is a long word but it really means that you are going to be kind and considerate to others, and open your house to them and be friendly with them.)
However in this city there were two old people who had no children and they were always kind to any person who came to them. One evening two strangers entered the gate of the city and went to a house where they asked if the people would give them a bed for the night, but the people refused to let them have a night's shelter. They spoke to the two strangers in a very rude way, so the strangers went to another house where they received the same reply. They wandered through the city – they were not big cities as we have now – until they came at last to the house where the two kind old people lived.
The two old people were really pleased to see the strangers and they said, 'Yes, come in by all means,' and they looked after them saying, 'We are very poor but you can use whatever we have. We are going to make a little pot of soup and you can have some of that. We have bread and milk, and a bit of honey and a few grapes from the vine in the garden. You can enjoy this with us if you want to.' The strangers said, 'Yes, we would love that,' and they started to eat. After some time they had eaten quite a lot, but the wife saw that the bowl of milk was always full when she went to it, and there were always grapes. In fact each time she went to get them the grapes were beautiful instead of being their poor ones. The honey was sweeter and yellower than it was before. The two old people kept very silent about this, and at last the guests said they would like to sleep as they were tired. So the old couple led them to the one bed in the cottage and let the strangers go to rest, and then the husband and wife lay down on the kitchen floor.
Early next morning when the two old people woke up, they went outside to get hold of their goose because they wanted to kill it to give to the strangers for their breakfast. While they were trying to catch the goose, the two guests appeared in the doorway and the eldest one said, 'Follow us up to the hill top.' There was something so commanding about the look of this stranger that the two old people did not think, but just followed the strangers to the top of the hill. When they reached the top, the strangers turned and said to the old man, 'Have a look,' and when the old people turned around and looked they saw the whole city was a great lake. When they looked to where the cottage had been, on what was now the edge of the lake stood a magnificent temple with pillars of marble and gold, and the door of the temple was ivory with precious stones in it.
One of the strangers was Zeus the great god of Mount Olympus, and he said, 'Of all the people in this city only you have been humble and taken us in and given us what you had. Because your house was such a good house, I have changed it into a temple of the gods. Before I leave I am going to ask if you want any favours, and anything you want will be granted to you.' The two old people, whose names were Philemon and Baucis, thought for a while and then they said together, 'Let us pray for you and be the guardians of your beautiful temple for as long as we live. Let us also die together, as neither of us wishes to live without the other or have to mourn for the other.' Zeus said, 'Your wish will be granted,' then he and the other god, whose name was Hermes, vanished from sight.
Philemon and Baucis were the faithful guardians of the temple for many years, and whenever any strangers came to the city they were very kind and hospitable to them in the way that they had been in the past. They grew very old until finally they did not care to live. One evening as they were standing hand in hand in front of the temple, thinking of the happy years they had spent together, they both suddenly vanished and in their stead there stood two big trees. Those trees stood for centuries in front of the temple of Zeus, and any visitors who came to the place heard the story of Philemon and Baucis. The visitors would hang garlands of flowers in the branches of the two trees, and sit under their shade and listen to the wind murmuring in their leaves.
This is a lovely story to show you that if we are kind to people we are really being kind to God.