Long ago, when times were hard, a man was caught stealing food from the market place.
The king was told of this misdemeanour, and he ordered that the man should be hanged for the theft. Preparations were made to carry out the execution, while the man was held in a dark dungeon.
On the day he was due to be hanged, the guards brought the man to the gallows, and he was asked if there was anything he wanted to say before he was put to death.
“Yes,” said the prisoner. “I have a message for the king. I have a special gift that was passed on to me by my father, who received it from his father. I can plant an apple seed in the ground and it will grow into a flourishing tree overnight, and bear fruit straight away. I just feel that it would be a pity if this secret gift were to die with me before I had passed it on.”
The king was impressed, and he asked the prisoner to tell him the secret and to plant the apple seed before he died.
“I would gladly do so,” said the prisoner, “but I must warn you that the seed can only be planted by a person who has never been dishonest – never stolen anything or told a lie, or deceived anyone in any way. So, of course, I cannot plant the seed myself, because I am a convicted thief.”
The king called for his prime minister to plant the seed, but the prime minister looked sheepish, and admitted that he had once kept something that did not belong to him, therefore he could not plant the seed.
So the king called for his chief treasurer, whose face at once flushed deep red as he confessed that there had been times when he had not been completely honest in his dealings with the treasury of the country. “I think, Your Majesty,” the treasurer said, “that you will have to plant the seed yourself.”
The king hesitated and became very uneasy, recalling how he had deceived his wife and been unfaithful. He hung his head and admitted that he, too, would be unable to plant the seed.
The thief looked around at all three of them. “You are the mightiest people in the land,” he said, “yet none of you is free of guilt. None of you is capable of planting the apple seed. Yet I, who stole a piece of bread because I was starving, am condemned to death.”
And the king pardoned the wise thief.