On a rock, in a forest, sat a young man, crying. He held a scroll, his only possession save for the tunic he wore. He is the hero of our story. His name is Androcles.
The year is eighty. Not 1980, nor 1880, but 80 A.D., or, as it was called in those days, the second year of the rule of Titus, Emperor of Rome and all her lands, from Galilee to Gaul. Androcles had lived on a farm up until this day, somewhere north of the great city of Rome. Now, he was lost and lonely and most of all, frightened.
"Oh boy!" he said to himself, "I'm in for it now!" Androcles began to dry his tears and started to look through the scroll. "I did it!" said our hero, "I really did it! I freed them all. All my master's animals, I let them go. And I'm glad that I did, even if it means my death. Boy! Is the master going to be mad. I feel sorry for any one who may encounter his wrath tonight, after he comes home and finds out what has happened. I'm so glad to be gone from that terrible place. No more whippings for me. This one would have been the worst yet."
Androcles was a runaway Roman slave, who had worked for a harsh and cruel master. He had set free all the animals on the farm where he worked, even though he knew full well the master's anger would be great. Now, he had run away to escape the coming punishment. But he knew too, that the penalty for being a run away slave was death.
The scroll he held so dearly was a copy of the Hebrew Psalms in Greek. No, Androcles wasn't Jewish, he was a Christian. This had been a gift from an older slave who was also a follower of the Christ. Androcles had been quite close to his fellow worker. The elder servant had handed it to Androcles several years ago before the old man was taken to fight gladiators in the Coliseum. He had been sent to die, because he was found guilty of being Christian.
When the old slave and been asked outright in the court of the local magistrate, he confessed without fear or hesitation with these words. "Yes! I am a follower of the Way, I believe in the words of Jesus of Nazareth. I am proud to bear the title of my Lord. I am, as the term means, a Little Christ, a Christian." With that evidence from his own lips the man was instantly sentenced to death.
Androcles wondered, when he heard the report of his friend's testimony, if he would have been so brave. Just now, he recognized, he was not acting with courage. He had not stood up for his principles, but rather had run away into the woods to hide. He had done what he had, because of his love for animals, which he had deep within him for as long as he could remember. Androcles realize that people needed animals for food, not just for pets. Though his master was far too fond of food and wine, as his large girth gave proof. "Fat pig!" was what Androcles called the corpulent Roman patrician behind his back.
No, Androcles had released all the livestock because of the other thing which they were kept for, sacrifice to the pagan Roman gods. A bull for Jupiter, a ram for Mars, a dove for Aphrodite. It sickened Androcles to think about it even now. He knew that God loved animals too, the story of Noah's Ark showed that. The only sacrifice in the Christian Church was that of the Lamb of God, Jesus himself. A willing sacrifice for the salvation of those who believed in it.
Androcles finally found the passage in the Psalms he had been trying to find. Knowing that the master's men would be searching for him, he remembered a verse which spoke his heart. It was at the start of the seventh Psalm. He read it out loud. "O Lord my God, in thee do I take shelter, save me from all my pursuers, and rescue me." Just then our story's hero heard a rumbling kind of sound, sort of weirdly echoing, deep and low. Androcles listened for a moment, wondering if it might perhaps be the Lord answering his prayer. The strange sound was not repeated.
He continued to read the Psalm, "lest like a lion they will drag me off, where none are to rescue me, and there tear me to pieces." The sound came again, now louder and clearer. Androcles thought he might be able to identify it, if only it would come once more. But now night was beginning to fall and he felt a few sprinkles of rain on his face. He skipped to the end of the passage. "I will give thanks to the Lord for his righteousness, and I will sing praises to the name of the Lord, the Most High."
At this, a bolt of lightning crashed nearby so very loudly, Androcles was temporarily deafened, but in the bright flash of the lightning he saw a cave close by. "Thank you Lord, for your sign of mercy and salvation!" cried the runaway slave. He made for the shelter in haste, as now he began to be pelted with large, cold drops. As he reached the opening in the rocks, he thought he heard the sound which had puzzled him a short while ago. But with his hearing impaired, and with the noise of the downpour, he was still unsure of its meaning.
He sat for awhile, drying off as best he could without anyway of starting a fire. Then, another flash of lightning lit up the whole of the cave's entrance. There, not more that an arm's length next to Androcles, sat an enormous lion. The lion was looking right at him. Androcles sat perfectly still for a moment, looking back at where the lion was, though now in the dark once more, all he could see of the lion were two large feline eyes staring back. The lion roared. The mysterious sound was a puzzle no longer.
As the rumbling echoed down the cavern depths, our hero made a break and ran as fast as his shaking from fear legs would carry him; away from what a short time ago had seemed like a godsend. I'm no Samson to wrestle a lion, he thought to himself as he slipped and skidded along the wet grass and tripped and stumbled through the rough underbrush of the wild. Any moment he expected the lion to pounce on him from behind and drag him back to the lion's den which Androcles had sought as sanctuary from his pursuers and the wet weather.
There, he knew with certainty, that the ferocious carnivore would tear him apart and he would be lion lunch, dinner ... and snacks for the next several days. Any calls for help would be for naught, for the only others beside himself thereabouts were the master's men, which would be a death sentence as well, if he were captured. This was just as he read in the Psalm, only, wasn't the Lord suppose to be helping him? Soon, out of breathe he had to slow to a walk. Where was the lion? Had he out run it? Androcles didn't think he was that fast. Did the big kitty so dislike the rain, not to chase a tasty meal? Androcles didn't know, but he wasn't going to go back and ask.
The next day was bright and sunny and warm. Androcles had spent the night under a large tree for shelter from the storm. It was not as comfortable as a cave but it had no large, hungry predators. He was, by now, hungry himself and he went casting about for something to eat. Shortly, he heard a raspy, rumbley, growl. No doubt now, of what it was. He dove for the cover in some thick bushes and tried to make his panicked heavy breathing as quiet as possible. The King of Beasts came closer and closer and passed by our scared hero just upwind of where he was hiding.
Androcles could see the lion clearly, though the large feline seemed not to be aware of Androcles. Then, Androcles noticed something that explained why he was looking at the great cat from where he was, instead of from inside the lion's tummy. "He's limping!" whispered Androcles. At the sound, the lion turn toward Androcles and made one of the most pitiful noises which any animal lover could ever hear. "Rowhh ... roo-ow ... orrooh ... roo!" The last almost like a kitten, if the kitten had weighed a quarter of a ton!
Then, the lion sat back on its haunches, and raised its right paw to lick it. Androcles saw a large thorn stuck far into the lion's paw, right between the middle toes. "Poor tabby!" our hero sympathized. Without really thinking about what he was doing, the ex-slave reached out from the bushes and firmly grasped the nettlesome needle in the maw of the lion, and quickly with a firm and determined yank, pulled the out offending spike. "RROOAARR!" the lion let out with the sudden sting it felt. Androcles fell backward out of the bushes with the sound of the lion's complaint. He scrambled to get away as fast as possible, in fear of his life, realizing that the lion might not be grateful for the relief that he had rather foolishly provided.
Androcles could hear the lion coming after him as he ran from the spot where they had met so inopportunely. His judgment of his ability to out run a lion proved to be correct, as he had not gone but a dozen paces when the lion knocked him down flat on his face and held him pinned to earth with its two front paws. "This is it!" cried our hero. "God be merciful to me a sinner!" was all he could think to pray as he was about to be the lion's prey. But, as he prepared to meet his maker he felt a funny, tickling sensation about his ears and neck. The lion was licking him!
"Easy big boy, easy!" said the young man who was not to be a meal, and he rolled over on to his back only to be licked quite wetly all over his face. "Okay! Okay! I get the point, you're grateful!" said Androcles, climbing to his feet and tousling the lion's shaggy mane. Come my fine fellow, let us retire to your den and past the heat of mid-day in the cool interior. With that, our hero picked up his scroll, plucked the wild grapes they passed and felt quite on top of his situation. Perhaps all would work out, with the Lord's help, to be for the best after all!
For several days the hero of our story and his new feline friend occupied the cave. The lion's den was deep toward the back of the cavern. Androcles made his home closer to the front where he would have benefit of light and fresh air. He called his roaring roommate Leo, after the constellation. In the morning, Androcles would call out, "Come Leo, lets go find something to eat." The two of them then would forage in the forest for their food for that day. Occasionally, Leo would hunt at night, as cats like to do, and bring back game to feed upon. Androcles didn't share Leo's dinner because he still was unable to make a fire to cook with.
One morning, Leo didn't return. It grew later and later in the day, and still no Leo. Androcles became worried and quite concerned. He left the cave and began to search the woods for his companion. "LEO!" our hero called in a loud voice. "LEO! ... LEEOO!!" He shouted all through the forest where they had roamed. Then he heard the sound of something rustling in the bushes and the snapping of dried twigs being stepped on. Normally, the lion wasn't so noisy. "Leo?" inquired Androcles.
"No, my name is Brutus Maximus." said a Roman soldier stepping out from behind a large tree and drawing his sword. The name seem to fit the tall, burly, bearded man. Just as the soldier spoke, Androcles felt a sharp poking in the middle of his back. "And you are our prisoner," The soldier continued. "The fellow with the spear in your back is Darius."
Several other men with armor and weapons appeared from the woods and came toward them. "Ho! What have you got Max?" asked one of the newcomers, "I though we were after lions!"
Another of the armored warriors asked, "Who's this?"
Brutus scratched his beard and speculated, "He must be that runaway slave we were told to be on the lookout for. You know, the one that let out all the livestock? I hear they are still searching for his master's favorite horse!" At this, the all the legionnaires chuckled.
"Hunting lions?" inquired Androcles as they tied up his hands and put a rope around his neck to keep him from running away.
"Yeah," replied one of his captors, "For the games in the Coliseum, during the coming Festival."
"Did you catch any?" asked Androcles.
"Our gang didn't. Perhaps some of the others did." answered Darius.
"I hope my friend, Leo, wasn't caught."
"Who's this Leo guy? Another run away slave?" inquired Brutus Maximus.
"No, Leo's a lion." our hero explained.
"Get that boys!" the burly soldier snickered, "The slaves makes friends with lions!" At this they all laughed quite loudly. Then the soldiers lead Androcles away, back toward their camp.
"What's so funny?" Androcles asked the soldier next to him, who happened to be Darius.
One of the others who had overheard him answered, "Oh, You'll find out soon enough!"
"Runaway slaves are made to fight hungry lions in the Coliseum, nowadays." explained Darius. He continued, "Its been one of the most popular events with the spectators lately."
At the thought of being torn apart by lions, Androcles suddenly remember his scroll, which he had left behind in the cave. "My scroll!" he said softly to himself.
But Darius heard him. "Did you leave it in a cave?"
Androcles turned to Darius, "Yes! How did you know?"
"Here," Darius handed the scroll to the slave, "Keep it hidden!" Androcles put the Psalms in his tunic. Darius stopped walking for a moment, and drew Androcles off to the side of the road with him. There he made an innocent looking mark in the dirt with a stick. It was a shallow arc, just a curved line, that might be nothing at all. Androcles eyes went wide at the sight however, for he recognized the mark for what it really meant.
He took the stick from Darius and made the same curve, but in the opposite direction. The start of his curve began at one end of the line Darius had made, but ended so that the two lines together made a drawing like a fish. It was a secret sign of recognition among Christians. The letters which spelled the word for fish in Greek also stood for Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior. Androcles realized from the sign that Darius was a Christian too! A Roman soldier, a believer in a faith of which it was a crime, punishable by death, to be a member of!
"Hey! You over there, what are you talking about? Lets get moving." Brutus voice startled the two.