Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Crime and Punishment (not about the book) (07/21/11)
TITLE: Balanced Once Again
By Hiram Claudio
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Theirs was a simple existence. They could work their fields, fight their personal battles, or argue with their spouses and children. But no matter what happened in this small medieval village, there was one thing they could count on. The ‘scales of justice,’ a huge working metal statue in the center of the town square, were always balanced evenly.
The only time they weren’t was when someone did something very, very wrong. Then, as part of the legal process, the scales were tipped to one side. They’d only be balanced again when justice was served, when the debt was paid. And while they were tipped, nothing in the town felt right. They’d constantly keep checking to see if the scales had been put back. Until they were, everyone was uneasy.
Usually, the scales were balanced again quickly. The town’s judges understood the sense of order the balanced scales gave the people. So they worked hard to set things right as fast as they could. They’d be just in trying to understand the whole nature of the transgression, but if the person was guilty, they’d require the debt paid with all speed.
But everyone knew the story of the time when the scales were tipped for what seemed like ages. One of the town’s leading farmers owed a huge debt. He had thought his crop would produce enough to pay it back but it didn’t. He owed a thousand times what he was able to pay. So the scales were tipped.
He sold his farm and his livestock, still not enough. He sold all his possessions and still fell woefully short of the debt. This went on for weeks and the town’s people, although they loved this farmer, became anxious. The only thing left for the farmer was to pay the debt by him and his family becoming lifelong slaves. But he owed so much that it was determined that even this wouldn’t satisfy. So while this would end the case, the scales would remain tipped until the debt was paid.
He didn’t know what to do. His neighbors, while loving and loyal, felt the pull of wanting the scales to be balanced again, no matter what. The day came for the hearing. Everyone was there. The village judges read the charges and the asked the farmer for his plea.
He quietly said, “Guilty.”
They began to account for all the things that had been sold and reported back that he was still far short of satisfying the debt.
Ashamed he turned to the judges, “I’ve nothing left.”
Everyone was still. Everyone knew each other in this small village. The judges were about to order the jailer to take the entire family into custody. Then, a newcomer to the village stepped forward.
“How much does he owe?”
The judges gave him a full accounting of the debt. The newcomer paused, looked at the farmer and his family, and smiled.
“I’ll pay it in full. And not just the part left over after he sells everything. I’ll pay everything. Give him back all his possessions.”
The people fought back cheering. The judges looked at each other. This had never happened before. They checked the law and there was nothing that required the debt to be paid by the one who created it. So they agreed and the newcomer paid the debt. He turned to farmer and his family.
“You have your family, your farm and all of your possessions. They are yours. Enjoy them.”
The farmer, through tears, said, “I don’t know how to thank you sir!”
The newcomer just kept smiling and began to walk away.
The farmer, still stunned, thought for a moment and said, “We were all about to become slaves to this village. Perhaps even to my children’s children. You paid the debt. Does this mean we’re now your slaves?”
The newcomer turned to them and said, “I’d prefer that you be my friends.” He smiled one last time and left.
As he did, the scales were balanced once again.
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