>> 20 June 2013

  The legend of Androcles and the lion has undergone several modifications through ages. It was adopted by Aesop in his famous fable where Androcles is portrayed as a fugitive slave who ran away from his cruel master and befriended a wounded lion which later refused to harm him. In his famous play, 'Androcles and the Lion' (1912) , George Bernard Shaw(1856-1950) presents Androcles as a compassionate Christian tailor who was saved in the Roman amphitheatre by the lion he once nursed. The following is a variant version of the old legend.

                     A king was influenced by the priests of pagan gods. They considered the Christians as their enemies because the Christians refused to worship idols and preached against idolatry. The pagan priests conspired against the Christians and inspired the king to issue an order that everyone must worship the idol of the king in public and offer incense and sacrifices as acts of adoration to the king. Anyone who refused to adore the king's idol publicly was to be thrown into an arena before a  hungry lion. The king's army was ordered to arrest anyone who refused to adore the king and bring the culprit before the king for trial and judgment. Hundreds of Christian martyrs were killed by the king's lions and thousands of people used to gather around the arena to enjoy the public massacre.

                     Fierce lions were captured from the forest by the hunters appointed by the king and kept in strong cages in the palace.  They were starved before being let loose in the fenced arena into which the helpless Christians were thrown down mercilessly amidst the applause of thousands in the gallery around the arena.

                     Androcles was identified as a practising Christian and was chased by the king's armed guards. He escaped into a dense forest and sought refuge in a cave. A wild lion with a large thorn stuck in its right paw entered the cage, limping on three legs and crying in great pain. He raised the swollen paw and showed it to Androcles who examined it with great care and compassion. He carefully removed the thorn and applied the fresh juice of medicinal herbs to alleviate the pain and cure the wound.  The lion felt relieved and licked the hands of Androcles as a mark of gratitude and love. He wagged his tail like a tame dog and left the cave thankfully. A few days later, the king's men traced Androcles and captured him. He was produced before the king. As Androcles refused to renounce his Christian faith, the king ordered that he shall be thrown to be eaten by a wild lion in the arena the next day.

                     Thousands arrived to witness the cruel murder. The king and the queen was seated in a special box. Androcles was brought to the arena . He knelt down and prayed to God fervently. A hungry lion was brought in a cage in a carriage. Its heavy grating was opened and the lion was let free to attack the helpless Androcles. The hungry lion jumped from the cage into the arena, roaring fiercely, ready to pounce upon his prey.

                      But, quite unexpectedly the lion became tame as he approached Androcles. He wagged his tail and licked Androcles with great affection. The lion recognized Androcles as the person who removed the thorn from his painful paw and affectionately nursed him before the lion was caught from the forest and was taken into the custody of the king's troops.

                       Everyone was struck with wonder. The king learned from Androcles  the story of his encounter with the lion and praised his kindness. The king was deeply impressed by the religion of Androcles which enabled him to show mercy and love even to animals. The king stopped the persecution of Christians and allowed Christians to practise their religion with full freedom. Androcles was appointed as an important officer in the king's palace but he thankfully declined the offer and devoted his life to care for the poor, the sick and the illiterate people of his country.

                       Jesus said, "And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples"{John 13: 34, 35}.

                      "Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them! Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!" {Matthew 5: 7, 8}.

© By: Dr. Babu Philip, Professor, Cochin University of Science & Technology, Fine Arts Avenue, Kochi-682016, Kerala, India. For more moral stories, parables and anecdotes for students, catechists, teachers and preachers, kindly visit my web-site: http://www.moralstorieschristian.blogspot.com

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