[Note: This is one of my attempts to tell either a different part of a Bible story, to tell the story from a different perspective, or to get a similar point across in a different way. I will quote the related scripture passage at the end. Besides the general fun of setting myself the assignment and trying to write it, I hope these stories will help someone think about the scriptural passage in new and creative ways. This is a work of fiction. All places, characters, and things are products of my imagination and any resemblance to anyone or anything real is purely accidental.]
Carl, now Sir Carl, made a bit of a stir when he arrived in the tiny village of Felidol. He rode his horse right across the small bridge across the creek (or river, as the locals would have it) and through the gate in the wooden palisade that surrounded the town. Farmers in their fields looked up and then continued to stare as he went by on his white horse. He did indeed cut quite a figure with shining armor, a quite long sword at his side, and fine cloak over it all, and expensive boots on his feet.
The villagers stared, but they were less impressed by his fine figure and equipment than they were frightened to see anyone like that here. The citizens of Felidol and the surrounding countryside didn’t like important people all that much. Important people wanted to get things done, and it always seemed that what they needed in order to get things done was the farmer’s money, food, and sometimes even their property.
Carl was completely oblivious to all this. He waved at the villagers in a friendly way as he rode past. He didn’t want to seem aloof or unsociable. He didn’t seem to realize that with the way he was dressed and equipped, the villagers had a hard time seeing him as anything but aloof. They hoped he would be aloof, and thus wouldn’t get them involved in anything.
On the other hand, he knew something they didn’t. In spite of his young age, and his knightly appearance, he was actually the new circuit judge, to be based in their village. Carl knew very well that he had gotten the appointment only because his father was one of the richest merchants in the city. He was fairly sure that his father had bought him this appointment for his 20th birthday, along with a knighthood. But that was alright with him, because he knew enough about the law to do the job, and he intended to do right by these people.
Carl’s first day in the courthouse was a disappointment. There were a couple of weddings to formalize, something that went without ceremonies in these parts. The feasting and celebration would take place elsewhere. There were some documents to formalize, ones that required the seal of a king’s officer. Carl was the only king’s officer in many, many miles. But nobody came to petition him for anything. He couldn’t imagine that none of the small farmers in this area had any complaints against the more important landowners. He imagined that the townsfolk had complaints against farmers, and farmers against townsfolk. That was how he had heard things always were.
By noon there was nothing left to do for his weekly court appearance, and he went to the one and only inn there was in town to get something to eat. He was joined by Jeruel, easily the richest landowner in the area. Their conversation was a strange one. Jeruel was constantly making references to “the costs of doing business” and “keeping troublemakers from injuring the pillars of the community.” Carl couldn’t really understand it. When Jeruel asked him what it would cost to maintain order, and winked when he said it, Carl responded with a recitation of the official royal budget for his position. Jeruel left the table quite unhappy.
The next week went much the same way. After court was complete, Carl went to ride around the fields on his horse. He came back at mid afternoon and went to the inn (complete with sign reading “The Inn”) and sat down at the bar for a drink. When his ale was served, he tried to start a conversation with the bartender, the only person there.
“People must be quite happy around here,” said Carl.
“Why d’ya say that?”
“Nobody comes to court. Nobody complains. They must be happy.”
“I wouldna say that,” said the bartender.
“What else could explain it?”
“What reason do they have to expect you to do anything about their troubles?”
“Well, I am the judge and a royal knight. I represent the king’s justice!” Carl was truly shocked.
“And before you, for full 30 years, Sir Frederick represented the king’s justice. Sir Frederick once fined me for taking a rich customer to court because he hadn’t paid his bill.”
“That wouldn’t be a fine, technically,” said Carl, going into lawyer mode. “He can’t fine you for bringing a civil case. He could award damages if the other man sued you. Did he sue you?”
“Not that I know. I took him to court, and I was fined two silver crowns—and that’s a lot of money!–for disturbing the peace!”
Carl couldn’t believe this. “You mean nobody took anything to him?”
“Well, I saw you lunching with old Jeruel after court last week.”
“Yes. He seemed very interested in the court’s budget.”
The bartender looked at Carl a bit strangely for a moment. “Yes, that would interest him. Did he offer to help pay it?”
“Help pay it? Absolutely not! Nor would I let him! I live on the king’s wages so I can be fair to all his majesty’s subjects!” The exclamations were clear in Carl’s voice, as though each new sentence was born of a new shock to his system.
“Hmmm. Interesting idea that, not letting the richest landowner assist you with your budgetary problems.” He paused. “But what I was about to tell you was that Jeruel took a number of people who owed him money brought before Sir Frederick, and mostly got them sold as slaves. Jeruel got a lot of justice out of Sir Frederick, and that’s a fact!”
Carl was angry. He didn’t know what to say. If the previous judge had been on the take for 30 years, what exactly was he going to do about it? The man was dead. He could go after the man who had bribed him, but he’d have to get the sheriff to take action, and that seemed pretty unlikely. He’d visited the sheriff on his second day and concluded that the area must be peaceful, if it could survive with such a man as its sheriff.
Just as he was about to say something, the bartender started talking again. “There was one person who got the better of both Sir Frederick and Jeruel.”
“Who was that?”
“It was widow Sera. She’s an elderly lady now, and was not that much younger then. She went up against Jeruel before the court. She demanded that Jeruel pay her for some work she had completed and delivered to her. Jeruel refused. Sir Frederick, predictably, sided with Jeruel. He fined her a penny.
“That didn’t slow her down. She returned the next week and made her complaint again. This time she had the penny waiting. Everyone was pretty sure he was planning to increase the fine, but she simply presented him with the penny at the end of the court session, and that shut him up!
“She did that every week for three months, and he still didn’t do anything. Then one Monday morning, as he was headed to court he met her riding for the gate on an overloaded donkey. He asked where she was going and she said she was going to the city, to petition the king.
“He begged her to come before him again that morning. He didn’t think the king would really care about the woman, but the king also didn’t like to have the problems of his judges show up in town to bother him.
“Sir Frederick worked out a deal and gave widow Sera what she wanted.”
“Well,” said Carl thoughtfully, “That’s an interesting story. I’ll have to think about it.”
And Carl did just that. He thought about it as he was walking home. He rode around the various trails on his horse and he thought. He practiced with his sword and he thought. In his universe, people took petitions to judges, and then the judges ruled on them. Other people made what the judge ordered take place. That was the way the universe ought to work. Somewhere in the back of his mind he realized that this didn’t always happen, that judges took bribes, and sometimes the court officers didn’t do their job. But in Carl’s mind that was another world.
Finally he decided what to do. Instead of staying in his house studying official documents or going out an practicing with his sword every day, he went out into the town and listened to people talking. He found a vendor in the market who had been cheated just that week by one of the major landowners. “Why don’t you bring it to me on Monday in court?” he asked.
“Why should I do that?”
“Because I’ll hear your case and give you justice.”
The farmer looked skeptical. “Nah,” he said. “You’ll do whatever Jeruel and the other landowners pay you to do.”
“Remember the widow Sera?” asked Carl.
The vendor chuckled. “I sure do. She really put it to those big folks.”
“Bring me your complaint,” said Carl. Then he went on.
He soon had a farmer cheated by his landlord, a smaller landowner cheated on water rights, a wife left by her husband who would not support his children. That last one was a tough one that the law didn’t quite cover, but Carl thought he could work it out. In each case, he reminded them of widow Sera, and how she had put it to Sir Frederick and Jeruel. He spent all week finding people with complaints, drumming up business for his court. He wasn’t sure they would come, but he thought he had planted the right seeds.
The next Monday his little courthouse was crowded. He covered the paperwork matters, and then called for the cases. As each case came up he ruled carefully according to the law as best he knew it. The law of the land was pretty vague on some matters. Where it was vague he stretched it in the direction of the weak. The bill for the landowners, and especially for one named Jeruel got pretty large.
When the day was over, Jeruel got up. “Sir Carl,” he said.
Carl was entitled to the “Sir” as he had been knighted, but he had never insisted on the formality. “Yes, Jeruel,” he said.
“You may think you’ve done something for these people. But there’s nobody here in this town to enforce your rulings. I’m going to ignore them, and if you want to stay healthy, you’ll forget about them.” He turned to the people in the room. “And as for you, you’ll pay for this!”
He strode from the room, radiating authority and arrogance.
“What are we going to do?” asked the people. “We trusted you.”
“You’re going to wait while I enforce my orders.”
He strode from the room, radiating nothing but a striding young man. The people thought it was fairly unimpressive. They all grumbled as they headed for home.
About half an hour later, Carl emerged in full armor, with his sword at his side, got on his horse and started to ride very slowly toward Jeruel’s home—or castle, some might call it. As he rode, people began to follow him. By the time he got to Jeruel’s front yard, he had quite a crowd walking along behind him. There were half a dozen men-at-arms between Carl and the house. They looked at his full armor, and his very expensive sword, then they looked at their own worn armor, and chose not to stand between him and their boss.
Jeruel appeared on his front porch. He was also dressed in fine armor and carrying a good sword. His equipment was not as shiny as Carl’s. It looked like it had been used. The people following Carl backed off a little bit, just enough so they could claim they weren’t with the nut on the white horse if things didn’t go well.
“I have come to enforce my rulings,” said Carl.
Carl gave no indication he had heard. “You can pay me the monetary damages now. As for water rights and boundary adjustments, I will be satisfied if they are done within the next three days.”
“You can’t beat me,” said Jeruel. “I’m going to cut you into pieces.”
“It’s possible you can beat me,” said Carl, “but are you sure? And supposing you do beat me, with all these people watching. What will you tell the king’s investigators?”
“I’m sure I can beat you,” said Jeruel, but he sounded less confident.
“Suit yourself,” said Carl. “Life will be easier for me with you dead.” He drew his sword.
Jeruel stood silent for a moment. On the one hand this youngster couldn’t be as good as he was, and while his equipment was expensive, it didn’t seem to have seen much use. On the other, while he didn’t speak with all that much confidence, he didn’t seem to be afraid either. Jeruel liked things he knew. Fear he knew. Arrogance he knew. This sort of quiet determination was not something he understood.
“I’ll give you half of the monetary awards, readjust the boundaries, but those water rights are mine. You had no business awarding them to my neighbor.” He watched Carl for his reaction. There was none.
“You’ll pay the full award now. You’ll follow my rulings in all matters.”
It wasn’t confidence. It was almost indifference. The only reason Jeruel could think of for that kind of indifference to his really very generous offer was that Carl knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he would win the battle. Nothing else made any sense.
“Very well,” he said, signaling toward the door. When a servant came out, he whispered directions to him. Soon the required money was brought out, and Jeruel handed it to Carl, watching carefully for any sign of triumph or relief. When he saw none he became even more convinced that for some unknown reason Carl was supremely confident he could win in any battle between them.
Carl rode slowly back to the town and distributed the money. Then he went to get a drink. “How could you be so confident you could beat him?” asked the bartender.
“I wasn’t,” said Carl.
“Then how could you face Jeruel down?”
“I was confident I was right.”
1He told them a parable about how they ought to pray always and not get discouraged. 2He said, “There was a judge in a certain city who did not fear God, nor was he concerned about people. 3Now there was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary!’ 4And he didn’t want to do it for some time. But after that, he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about people, 5yet because this woman is tiring me out, I’ll give her justice, so she doesn’t wear me out in the end!’” 6The Lord said, “Listen to what this unjust judge says. 7And will God not carry out justice for his elect who cry out to him day and night and be patient with them? 8I say to you that he will carry out justice for them quickly. Yet when the son of man comes, will he find faith (or faithfulness) on earth?” — Luke 18:1-8