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An African Easter Story
Have you heard the story of Jesus too many times?
One thing I battle with during Lent is the tendency to “shrug off” the story of Jesus.
It’s not that I don’t care about the Easter story, or am not thankful for the cross
One way in which I have been overcoming this “shrug off” tendency is to try and hear the story told in different ways. Let me share with you one of those ways, it comes in the form of an African parable.
The story goes like this . . .
In a very small village, in the jungles of Africa, there lived a very young (but very wise) chief. One day the elders of the village came to the chief and presented to him a problem. Several people in the village had reported that there must be a thief in the village. No one could say who the thief was, but there were several homes that had reported that food supplies were disappearing in the night. The chief began to look into the matter in all his seeking he was not able to find even one clue as to who the thief could be.
This problem went on for quite some time and became a real concern to everyone in the village and the elders and leaders in the village began to pressure the chief to take drastic measures to stop this thieving.
So the chief gathered together all the people of the village and spoke to them. He spoke to the villagers saying, “We all know that there is a thief among us, and you, the person who is doing the thieving knows who you are. We are a small community, and really, we are like one family. We are all united in our love for one another. If anyone is struggling or lacking food there is no need to steal. You can simply come to us and we will see that you are cared for and all your needs are met”.
The chief went on to encourage the people, and to encourage the person who was stealing that they should come forward and confess. But no one came forward.
“If you come forward now,” the chief said, “the punishment you are to receive for
stealing will be light. But if you do not come forward and instead wait to be caught,
your punishment will be harsh. The punishment for stealing is 5 lashes with the whip.
If you come forward now you will receive these 5 lashes and no more. But if you wait
until you are caught the punishment will be double -
It was with a heavy heart that he dismissed the people. That night he assigned a group of men to hide out in the bushes and spy on the village to see if they could catch the thief, but they had no way of knowing which house the thief would visit, and they were not able to catch the thief that night.
The next morning (the same as every morning) there was another report of missing food. So once again the chief gathered together all the people of the village and spoke to them.
He said to them, “Is there any need to steal food? Are we not as one family that cares for the needs of each person? If you are hungry there is no need to steal, you have only to come and tell us of your need and we will see that you are provided for. There is no reason why anyone among us should be stealing food.”
Once again he encouraged the person to confess, but no one among the people would admit that they were the thief.
“This cannot continue,” said the chief, “we are a small community, and eventually
you will be caught. If you come and confess yourself that you are the one who has
been stealing the punishment you will receive is 5 lashes. But if you do not come
forward, but instead wait to be caught, your punishment will be harsh -
With these words he continued to implore the thief to confess. But still no one came forward.
With a heavy heart, he dismissed the people once again.
This went on for many days. Each night a group of men would hide in the bushes to see if they could catch the thief, but each morning there would be reports of stolen food and no thief was caught. Each afternoon the people would be gathered together and the chief would speak to them and implore them, and encourage the thief to confess, but there was never a person who stepped forward in response.
And each time the chief would increase the sentence . . . “If you come and confess
that you are the one who has been stealing the punishment will be 5 lashes, but if
you do not come forward and instead wait to be caught, your punishment will be harsh
But still no one came forward.
Then, early one morning the chief was awakened by loud shouts in the village. The thief had at last been caught. All the villagers gathered outside the chief’s quarters eager to see who the thief was. The chief stepped forward and called for the thief to be brought forward.
A sudden hush fell over the crowd. Even the chief himself was speechless as they
brought before him the thief -
For the longest time no one spoke. The chief stared, his knees growing weak. All
the eyes of the village were upon him. They all knew the sentence that had been proclaimed
And it was the chief’s own mother. How could he possibly follow through with seeing his own mother beaten to death!?
The crowd waiting anxiously as the chief stepped forward to speak to his mother.
“Why?” he asked, “why have you been stealing from these people? Am I not your son? And the chief of this village! If you had a need of any kind could you not have come to me and received everything you need and more? Why did you not come to me? Why have you been stealing?!”
There was no response. The old woman simply lowered her head in shame and remained silent.
The chief turned and stepped up to his throne, then turned to address the crowd. “The sentence is 40 lashes with the whip. Take the woman and bind her in preparation for the flogging.”
There were murmurs heard among the crowd as the men stepped forward to do the chief’s bidding. The old woman’s arms were stretched out and her hands strapped to two poles exposing her back for the whip.
The designated man took up the whip and turned to look at the chief, awaiting his signal to proceed.
Breathlessly the crowd watched, waiting to see the nod from the chief that would
commence the sentence -
They watched as the chief stepped down from the throne and went over to his mother. Then he put one hand on each of the posts and stretched out his arms, shielding his mother with his own body. Then he looked at the man with the whip and gave “the nod”.
The whip cracked the full 40 times falling on the back of the chief. Justice was served. But mercy . . . mercy let the lashes fall upon the innocent back of the chief as he took the punishment on himself. The chief acted in this way so as to be both the one who is just and the one who justifies.