One evening, a young woman was walking to a nearby town where her eldest sister lived, and she came to a crossroads. One way was a short road, through a dark tunnel, and the other was a longer, winding way, that went around the hill, brightly lit the whole way. She thought it was safe enough, since it wasn’t too late yet, and besides, the way was so short-so she took the tunnel road.

But while she was walking through the tunnel, robbers attacked her, taking everything (even her shoes!) They took her to a cell, and through the bars, a young robber with a hopeful tone promised that if someone paid her ransom she would be freed. An older fellow, with furrowed brows and a very evident holster on his hip elbowed his way in at that point, to promise, in a gravelly voice, that if no-one did come and pay her ransom, she would be killed. Personally. But the lass’s sister was barely scraping by as it was, with everything second-hand, and skipping meals so her children didn’t go hungry…and even in comparison to her eldest sister, the rest of her family couldn’t afford to pay. So when they left her, she huddled into the dark corner of her cell. She huddled, and despaired. And she guessed that that’s the way of the world, to lessen the value of the lives of the poor, anyway. And she realised with a sad smile, that think all she would about it, there was nothing she’d ever be able to do to help the world now. And the snores of her jailers, some soft and easy, and some deeper, more jagged and inconsistent, filled her cell.

But as the night dragged on, and the jailers snored louder and louder, until each breath seemed but an echo of the last, and she clasped her arms together inside her sleeves in a futile attempt to keep warm, she was surprised by a sudden movement in the shadows at her barred door. The was a heavily-hooded figure bearing something that glinted in the dark. Keys. And in a low voice, hushed but not a whisper, he said “Come with me if you want to live”. Clambering to her feet almost ended head over heels as she tripped on nothing in the dark. But she straightened her coat, and untucked her arms, and followed him out of her cell. They went out, silently, he retracing his steps without pause. Just as well, as she’d been blindfolded when she was lead in. It wasn’t until they had left the hideout far behind, and were through the tunnel that she dared to ask “Who are you?”.

Out of the shadows of his hood, an amused smile could be seen in the predawn glowiness. He merely said “I’ll take you to your sisters now, ay?”, and kept walking. And then she worried desperately, now trotting alongside and almost in front of her rescuer, now lagging behind, because as much as she wanted to be safe with her family, would they ever be safe? The robbers had also promised that if she should somehow go missing without a ransom, they would  take great delight in hunting down each member of her family, starting with the children. At least Mr. Eyebrows had gleefully expressed that, with the young man shrugging like it really couldn’t be helped. She turned to look back, wondering if she should just go accept her fate, but then looked forward, hoping desperately that they’d forget about her, or that they’d work out how poor her family were, and not bother. Eventually she stopped walking, and just stood, tears streaming down her face, and her head swinging like a weathervane on a gusty day. But he said “Don’t worry, I’ll take your place. ” And she was glad, and walked on. Glad even though by the socks poking through his shoes, and the toenails poking through his socks, he didn’t have much of a ransom to his name either.

And so she walked with a troubled, but grateful heart, past the first through houses as the sun struck the distant clocktower. 6am. Her sister probably thought she’d decided to leave a day late, and had forgotten to call. She was probably in her dressing gown now, flopping around the kitchen getting the kids’ lunches ready for school. Probably grumbling under her breath about her inconsiderate little sister, but relieved she didn’t have another mouth to feed. So predictable.

They finally got to the old council flat, and at the door, the younger sister threw her arms around the older’s neck, and bawled relief. This was met by an embarrassed hug, followed by questions. Questions that occupied both of them until, getting to the point of her rescuer, they looked out the door, and discovered him gone from where he had been standing by the letterbox a minute before. He had marched off (or rather, strode) off, without thanks of any kind. To his death.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. -1John4:9

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