Androcles and the Lion (After Shaw)
Long ago there lived a little Greek tailor, whose name was Androcles. He lived in a small village in the Italian countryside not very far from Rome. Androcles was a very ordinary little man and it is very probable that no-one would have ever heard his name again if he hadn't wandered down into the city square one bright sunny morning and come across a great crowd of people listening to a man who was preaching.
Now in those days the Roman empire stretched all over the known world from Britain to Egypt and from Spain to Palestine and the Roman emperor was the most important man in the whole world. In fact he was so very important and everyone was so frightened of him that the silly fellow imagined that he was a God. Nobody had the courage to tell him that he wasn't.
The Roman empire had fallen into a certain degree of decay owing to the very decadent life-style at court in Rome. For the emperor's amusement, men would fight each other to the death in the arena of the great Colosseum. When the emperor and his friends became bored with this, they devised even more horrible forms of entertainment. Throwing people to the. lions and other wild animals for their amusement, and other things too terrible for me to tell you about.
When the new faith of Christianity started to spread the emperor and all his statesmen and governors were furiously angry, and terrified that they would lose their power. Whenever they managed to catch little groups of Christians, they would force them to say their prayers to the emperor and, if they refused to do this, they would throw them to the lions in the Colosseum. They thought in this way that they could extinguish the flame of Christianity, but the more they persecuted them the more brightly it burnt.
When Androcles wandered into the city square, he was amazed to hear a man standing up on a box and telling everyone about Jesus. Androcles listened, absolutely fascinated. He had never really thought that the emperor was God, but like everybody else he pretended to. He had never really believed in Jupiter and Mars, Venus and all the others, in fact he had never really thought about it at all.
But when he listened to the words of the strange preacher it was as though a window suddenly opened in his dull life and sunlight came streaming in. When the crowd had gone, Androcles went shyly up to the preacher and started to talk to him when a cohort of soldiers came suddenly round the corner.
"Oh dear", said Androcles. "Do you suppose they are looking for you?" "I shouldn't be surprised," said the preacher. "All us Christians are on the run at the moment. The army has been told to crack down on us."
"You can come home with me if you like," said Androcles. "I only live round the corner and you will be safe there." And grabbing the preacher by the hand, he hurried off down a narrow alley to his little tailor's shop. Androcles gave the preacher some lunch and the preacher told him more about Jesus and where the little group of Christians met for their secret services, in the catacombs under the city,of Rome. Before long, Androcles had decided that he wanted to be a Christian more than anything in the world and soon he was baptised by his friend the preacher, although he knew how dreadfully dangerous it was.
Of course even for Christians, ordinary life has to go on, and about once a month Androcles had to make a journey to the weaver to pick up cloth for his trade. The weaver lived on the far side of a very rough and wild part of the country and Androcles would usually pack food to take with him and sometimes, if he was late, he would stay the night at the weaver's house.
One day, he set out as usual and when he arrived at his friend house he was invited to stay as the sun was already sinking in the West. In the ordinary way Androcles would have been glad to stay with his friend, but he had made arrangements to meet the other Christians for the baptism of a new baby and decided he would set out for home although it was rather later than usual.
He was hurrying along the narrow path through the woods when he heard a frightful roar and saw an enormous lion, sitting a few yards away from him. Androcles was terrified. He backed hastily along the path and got behind a large tree. The lion roared again and Androcles thought there was something pathetic in the tone. The lion sounded more sad than angry. In fact it was more of a howl than a roar. He peered round the tree in the gathering gloom and saw that the great creature had one front paw raised to its mouth. He seemed to be licking it. As Androcles watched the lion raised his head again and gave out another heart-rending bellow. He then seemed to be pulling at his paw with his teeth. "I think the poor lion is in pain," said Androcles to himself. "Whatever can be wrong with it?" He was a kind-hearted man and came nervously out from behind his tree and with a thumping heart, he approached the lion. "What's the matter old chap?" said Androcles, poised ready to run. The lion held out a massive paw and Androcles could just see a great thorn sticking out of one of his big round black pads. "Poor old chap", said Androcles, nervously creeping closer. The.lion let out another mighty roar and Androcles shot back behind his tree, where he stood quaking with fright. After a minute or two he peered round the tree again and saw that the,lion was still there blocking his path. He was whimpering, pitifully and biting at the thorn with his teeth.
"You will never get it out that way," said Androcles, and he once again crept nervously towards the great beast.
"Come on, let me help you," he said, and bravely took the great hairy paw. It was easily as big as a soup plate. Androcles took the thorn firmly between his finger and thumb and very gently tweaked it out. The lion gave out an even louder roar and bounded right over Androcles, disappearing almost at once into the dark forest. Androcles sat down with a bump.
"Well," he said to himself. "At least he has gone." and he hurried home.
It was some months later when Androcles and his fellow Christians were just beginning to feel safe, that a squad of soldiers came upon them at prayer in the catacombs. They did not know whether they had been betrayed, or whether it was just a routine search, but they were all rounded up and locked in a big cage behind the Colosseum. They knew that the following morning the Emperor was coming to watch gladiators fight, and that as part of the show they would be sacrificed in some horrible way.
It was the longest night of Androcles' . Some of the Christians prayed, some wept and some tried to keep each other cheerful.
One or two agreed to worship the Emperor and were allowed to go free.
Androcles wondered whether he would be brave enough to face whatever was waiting for him in the morning. When the sun started to creep in through the bars of their cage, he woke from a fretful, disturbed sleep and found that he was the first Christian on the list and had no time to make up his mind how he would behave. The gates were thrown open and he was pushed roughly out into the great sawdust ring, all alone. The excited shouts of the crowd were ringing in his ears. A great dark tunnel on the opposite side of the ring was covered with a barred gate. Two of the animal keepers pushed the gate to one side and Androcles saw the outline of some great beast approaching him. He threw himself to his knees, closed his eyes and started to pray as he had never prayed in his life before. He felt the hot breath on the back of his neck and knew that his last moment had come and then - and then - instead of sharp teeth that he was expecting, he felt a great rough tongue licking his face. Androcles opened his eyes in amazement and saw his friend the lion a few inches away from him, licking him furiously.
"Dear old fellow", said Androcles jumping to his feet. He threw his arms round the great golden neck, tears of relief pouring down his face.
For once, there was absolute silence from the crowd. Every single one of them, including the Emperor sat with his mouth open in utter astonishment. Then there was a great shout and they all started clapping. "Marvellous", said the Emperor, standing up. "Wonderful. Never seen anything like it in my life. What an amazing spectacle:" Androcles, hanging on firmly to his large hairy friend, stared up at the Emperors box so far above his head.
"What do you want me to do now Sir?" he shouted.
"How did you manage it?" shouted the Emperor opening the gilded door on his box and hurrying down through the crowds.
"God must have helped me," said Androcles. "I am a Christian you know. I believe in the true God."
"Goodness me" said the Emperor. "I don't think any of our Gods could do that, and I am a God myself you know."
"Come and stroke him, if you are a God," said Androcles bravely. "He will not hurt you as long as I am with him."
The Emperor did not really want to stroke the lion at all but with all the people of Rome watching him, he felt he had to try and very nervously entered the arena. The lion lay down and the Emperor very gingerly patted him on the head.
"Will you free all the Christians, and let them worship as they like?" asked Androcles.
"Yes, I will," said the Emperor, "as long as they agree to worship me as well. I am a God too, I have subdued this great lion'."
"Oh, we couldn't do that" said Androcles. "We can only worship the true God."
"You horrid, skinny little creature," said the Emperor. "I will have you torn to pieces."
The lion got up and growling in a menacing manner, backed the Emperor up against the wall of the arena.
"Don't talk like that," said Androcles, "He understands every word you say. He can tell from the tone of your voice. You must say you love me like a brother."
"I love you like a brother", said the Emperor, turning very pale.
"And you will let all the Christians go free?" asked Androcles. The lion growled, deep in his throat and leant heavily on the Emperor, breathing all over him.
"Yes, yes, they can all go free, and follow their religion. In fact as your God is so powerful I may think of becoming a Christian myself." said the Emperor desperately.
So the guards opened the cages and let all the Christians out.
"My friend and I are going home now," said Androcles. "Unless there was anything else you wanted to say to me?"
"No, no, of course not," said the Emperor. "Off you go my dear chap."
Androcles and the lion walked slowly from the arena, up the steps and out of the front door of the Colosseum. The gaping crowds following them,at a safe distance,until they reached the city gates.
So Androcles went home to his tailor's shop and every morning he left out a dish of meat and the lion would come and lie in the sun outside his door, to the great amazement of all the people.