What’s the Verdict?

“Boy, my dad is going to lay down the law when I get home. I’m not looking forward to that!”

Thirteen year old Jeremy collapsed into the chair, mortified. Not his first time stealing from the Five and Dime, today he was caught red-handed by the store owner. Sitting with the old gentleman in his office, waiting for his dad to arrive, Jeremy’s imagination ran wild with dread.

“Man, I’m gunna get it!” he lamented.

“Might be,” replied the old man. “Might be.”

The silence was deafening. “Help! Oh, man… help!” coursed through Jeremy’s mind, dread mounting as he heard the pounding of his father’s boots echoing along the corridor.

Mr. Randall Goodnight stood as Jeremy’s dad paused at his door. “Bud, come on in. Have a seat. We need to talk.” With a face of sadness Jeremy’s dad silently looked at his son, then back at the store owner.

“Yes. Reckon we do, Randall,” Bud answered, taking a seat next to Jeremy.

Sweat trickled down the back of Jeremy’s neck. He’d been in hot water before, but not like this. It was one thing to be grounded and have to do extra chores. It was another to face a sign that said, “Shoplifters will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

“What are they going to do to me?” Jeremy silently lamented. He’d heard of kids getting sent to juvy – juvenile detention. “Boy, I don’t want to go there,” he muttered under his breath. “No way.”

“You have something you’re fixin’ to say, son? Now would be a good time to tell us what this stealing is all about.” Jeremy slowly lifted his eyes from his clutched hands to glance at the side of his dad’s face. No way could he look his dad in the eye, shame creeping up to color his neck and cheeks. He felt sick to his stomach, his head pounding like it was going to burst. Man, he wanted to run! How did he get himself in such a mess?

“Dumb. I was just dumb, Dad, thinkin’ I could snitch from the store, and no one would notice. Just… I don’t know, Dad. I have no good reason.”

Randall raised an eyebrow at Bud. Having seen Jeremy steal from the store on several occasions, he had already discussed the issue with Bud, and had been waiting to confront Jeremy. Both adults hoped today would be the start to curing Jeremy’s thieving.

The discussion dragged on and on, Jeremy exhausted by the time he had confessed all the shoplifting he had done, told of everything he had stolen.

“Well, son. Seems like you got yerself in quite a pickle. Mr. Goodnight here has every right to call the police on this. And, frankly, I wouldn’t blame him.”

Jeremy’s breath hitched, his heart rate speeding up again while rants of “caught, tried, crucified” whirled in his mind.

Jeremy’s dad continued, “I’m gunna let Mr. Goodnight decide what he wants to do, if he wants you prosecuted. He’s the one you’ve wronged. He’s the one who will decide.”

Jeremy looked at the floor, fear slithering up his spine as he waited for the verdict. Randall nodded at Bud, then leaned forward and said, “I’ve been thinking about this carefully, Jeremy,” the old man’s eyes piercing right through Jeremy’s defenses. “I care about you, and I’d rather not see you have a police record, or end up someday in juvy. But… there are prices to pay, consequences that naturally happen.”

Jeremy chanced a glance toward Mr. Goodnight, expecting a tongue-lashing at least.

“I want your sincere apology, Jeremy, after you’ve had some time to think this over. Stealing is a serious offense that can lead to even greater crimes. It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small, it’s your attitude towards others and your respect for them and the law that’s the question here. I’m trusting you to think on this before you apologize. I’m serious.”

“Y-yes, sir,” Jeremy, stunned with a measure of relief, yet at the same time feeling fearfully small, stammered, “Y-yes, sir. I’ll do that.”

“Secondly, your dad and I have discussed how you’re going to pay for all you have stolen. He has already given me permission to order you to work for me this summer.”

Jeremy looked from Mr. Goodnight to his dad, an unspoken question in his eyes.

“That’s right, son. While you work with Mr. Goodnight you’ll naturally have to miss rodeoing. It hurts me something fierce that that’s the case.”

Jeremy wiggled his feet, feeling the need to bolt, but dared not.

“Either you do what Mr. Goodnight has asked, apologizing and working for him, or he can call the police about your stealing. You have a choice. We’ve been watching you, Jeremy. This stealing cannot go on. What are you going to do?”

Jeremy hung his head. Tears wet his eyes as he thought about missing rodeoing. Man, he loved to barrel race. The state-wide rodeo was the highlight of the summer for the small ranching communities in his area, participants coming from miles around. Jeremy’s heart sank as he imagined all he had forfeited. Gosh, if he ended up in juvy he’s miss rodeoing, too. Yup. He had really screwed up by breaking the law. There was no way he could get out of it… he was as guilty as could be.

“Dad, do I really…really have to miss rodeoing?”

“Yes, son, you do. It’s part of the penalty you have to pay for the debt you owe Mr. Goodnight. It’s either that or the police. What’s yer choice?”

Jeremy’s mind was clouded with emotion. As he sat considering his options in the presence of these two honorable men, a path in his darkness started to appear.

“I guess… I guess I’ll… I’ll do what Mr. Goodnight wants… I’m sorry, Mr. Goodnight. I really am.”

“I’m sure you are, Jeremy. You think on that… and be here Monday morning at eight o’clock. We’ll talk more then before you start your work.”

Jeremy nodded as he shuffled out the door, Bud and Randall nodding at each other with pained satisfaction. Yup. The kid was learning a hard lesson, one that had some surprises built in, depending on his choices. That rodeo was still several weeks away… Jeremy’s mind spun. Was there any shred of hope?

Consider this: What’s the verdict? What are the intents of the father and the shop owner through the consequences? How does God treat us—with punishment or rescue? Where does forgiveness come in? What does it look like? We, too, have choices, and consequences.

Prayer: LORD, thank You that You are the perfect Father. No matter our relationships with earthly fathers, You as our Father are so far above what we think and understand. In Your justice and righteousness, let us not forget You are the God of love, mercy, and forgiveness. Draw us close, Father. Help us experience personally Your deep love and compassion. Thank You for loving us enough to discipline us, to help us grow into righteousness. Amen.

John 3:16 NKJV “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

I John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Psalms 100:5 “For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations.”

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