The Accused

Laura Bates sat on the edge of her bed thumbing through a library book. Every once in a while she’d glance out the window toward the long curving driveway leading from the main road, through the orchard, to the courtyard in front of her home.

In the far distance she could see cars moving along the interstate that paralleled the river east of town.

“Late again,” she sighed, letting her gaze settle on the empty driveway. “Imagine that.”

Closing the book, she pressed her feet into the warm, fuzzy slippers waiting at the foot of her bed and shuffled out into the hallway. The late afternoon sun reflected on the smooth wooden floor and illuminated the gold leaf-framed pictures hanging on the wall.

Laura moved slowly, gazing up at each image. At one portrait she paused. A sad smile nudged the comers of her mouth as her dark eyes scrutinized the handsome face looking down at her. In a voice not much above a whisper she said, “Hi, Papa.”

She stood for a long time studying the face in the picture. How long had it been now? Five, six years? It was hard to remember. She’d been so young.

“Laura? Are you home?” A woman’s voice called from the landing below. “The traffic was just dreadful. You must be famished.”

Laura walked to the top of the stairs and watched her mother move between the coatroom and the entrance to the dining area. “Here I am,” the girl called.

Mrs. Bates stopped and smiled up at her daughter. “There’s my lovely Laura. Did you have a good day?”

Before Laura could answer, the woman turned and disappeared into the kitchen. “You won’t believe the trouble I had today.” A disembodied voice echoed through the foyer. “I mean, it was just one thing after another. You’d think that silly company could do without me for a few hours, but no. They’re all a bunch of babies.”

Laura sat down on the top step, her chin resting in her hands. Mother never had a good day. Never. So why didn’t she just stop working? She didn’t need the money.

“You want french fries or soup for supper? Oh, never mind. We don’t have any soup. Remind me to pick some up tomorrow.”

Laura walked down the stairs and stood in the doorway leading to the kitchen. She watched as her mother tried to wrestle a frying pan from the wide drawer under the stove. The pan was caught on something. The more the woman pulled, the tighter it wedged itself in the tangle of cookware.

“Want me to help you?” Laura asked, moving toward the stove.

“No!” Mrs. Bates fought to control her rising anger. “No, I’ll do it.” She pulled hard on the handle. “I’m not going to let some stupid frying pan keep me from making you supper.”

“It’s OK, Mom.” Laura sounded frightened. “Here, I can eat this cereal. I don’t mind.”

The woman gritted her teeth. “I said french fries and that’s what you’re going to get!”

Suddenly the pan shot out of the cupboard as the drawer’s hinges gave way. Pots, bread tins, and mixing bowls scattered across the floor. Mrs. Bates fell backward against a table, sending spoons, knives, a box of recipes, dishes, and assorted cooking utensils, smashing against the cupboards on the far side of the kitchen.

The woman screamed in rage. Laura raced toward the table, her voice thin, shaking. “I’ll clean it up, Mother. Don’t worry about it. I’ll clean it up!”

Mrs. Bates rose, her body tight, awkward. “Leave it. Leave it!”

“It’s OK. Really. I’ll clean it up.”

Laura felt something hard slam into her face. “I said leave it!”

The impact of the blow forced the girl to her knees. Broken glass cut deep into her hands as she fought to steady herself. A voice roared above her. “Look at this mess, I can’t even fix a simple supper anymore. I’m useless. Totally useless.”

The woman stormed out of the room, leaving obscenities dripping from the walls like the splattered cooking oil oozing from the broken bottle by the refrigerator.

Laura remained motionless. She heard the front door slam shut followed by a car engine shrieking to life. Spinning tires echoed down the long driveway and then, silence. The house was still. The only sound disturbing the evening calm was a girl’s sobs.


Voyager rocked on its base as a cool wind whistled through the dark street. Occasionally a dog would bark in the distance, followed by a gruff voice ordering the animal to keep still. Jerusalem rested in the early morning calm.

Tony stood nearby, leaning against a wall. He was watching a group of men labor along the narrow street leading to the Temple courtyard. Their loud voices rang rough in the cool, damp air.

Inside the circle of men was a young woman, her face angry, frightened. The men shoved her along, demanding that she hurry. Every once in a while the woman would try to escape, but one of the men would grab her and yank her back in line.

After the group had passed Tony, the boy fell in behind them. The mob moved toward the tall white walls of the Temple glowing in the first rays of dawn.

Tony had decided to make this journey alone. Something he’d read in the Book the night before had raised questions in his mind. He wanted to see the event recorded there for himself.

In the Temple courtyard the group stopped in front of a large gathering of people who sat listening to a man reading from a scroll. Tony stood off to one side, waiting to see what would happen.

As the man looked up from his reading, Tony recognized him as the Nazarene.

“Rabbi,” one from the group of men called out as he shoved the woman toward Jesus, “we’ve got a question for you.”

The woman stood before the carpenter, cowering with fear.

Jesus studied the woman’s face, then looked at the men. “Why do you treat this woman so roughly? What has she done to you?

Several in the group reddened as their leader spoke. “We are not here to talk about us. This–this person was caught in the act of adultery.”

The carpenter glanced at the woman. She did not lift her eyes.

The accuser continued. “In the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

Tony’s mouth dropped open. It was a trick, an evil trick designed to force the Nazarene to choose between two laws: the law of God handed down centuries ago to the children of Israel in the desert, and the law of mercy that Jesus had been teaching.

If he said the woman should be stoned, he’d be turning his back on mercy. If he insisted that she shouldn’t be stoned, the men who had brought her could accuse him of speaking against the law of God.

Tony’s brow furrowed in confusion. The Ten Commandments, the rules and regulations written in the Book back at his workshop, were straight from God. Now God’s Son was going around preaching mercy, about how we’re supposed to help people, to love people, no matter what they’ve done. How could those two laws be followed at the same time?

Jesus turned toward the woman. Her face showed a look of hurt, embarrassment, shame.

Tony moved closer.

Quietly Jesus bent down on one knee. With his finger he began to write something in the loose sand covering the ground.

The mob became angry. “Hey, teacher,” one of them shouted, “where’s all this great wisdom we’ve heard about? We’ve asked you a simple question and all you do is draw in the sand. Didn’t your father teach you anything in that carpenter shop?”

The Nazarene stood. Turning to face the men, he spoke softly, firmly. “Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Stooping again, He continued writing in the sand.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” one of the men shouted. “We’re not the accused. She is!”

Suddenly an older member of the group lifted his hand. “Wait,” he said. Moving to where Jesus was kneeling, he read the words scrawled in the sand. His face paled. Quickly he turned and left the gathering.

Another man stopped his taunting and read the words. Then he too quickly left.

One by one the men slipped away, until only the woman and Jesus remained.

The carpenter rose and looked around. “Where are the men who brought you here? Is there no one left to condemn you.

The woman bowed her head, unable to look the Nazarene in the eye. “Only you are left,” she said in a whisper.

“Then neither do I condemn you. Go. Sin no more.”

The woman’s eyes filled with tears as she gazed into the kind face of the teacher. She had been accused. She was guilty. But before this man, she had found something she had never known. In his eyes, in his voice, she had found acceptance, even in her sin. The law had condemned her, but the One who wrote the law had forgiven her.

Tony shook his head in amazement. The Nazarene had done it! This simple carpenter had faced the accusers and won.

As he made his way back to Voyager, Tony couldn’t help smiling. He had seen the law of God in its true light. There was a place for mercy, for forgiveness.

In the distance he could see the men gathering once again. They were talking in whispers, pointing angrily toward the Temple. A frown shadowed Tony’s face. He knew the Nazarene had not seen the last of that mob.

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The Accused

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