Anna fidgeted with the side of her tunic as she stood, waiting. The group of men before her were all familiar to her, but she had never before been called to the formal assembly. Her eyes focused on Tamal as the Rabbi rose and walked to the center of the large room and stopped a few feet in front of her. His voice echoed off the walls as he began to speak. This room was made for a crowd to easily be able to hear the speaker’s voice without him having to yell. But with the empty room, Tamal’s voice seemed to be even louder.
“Anna, What brought this on? Just a few days ago you were all sunshine and bubbles, were you not?”
” I was?” Her eyes widened. She didn’t think they would have brought such a subject up. “You hear my good news?”
“You mean the news about the betrothal, I thought that’s what made you upset.”
“No, I mean, yes… No, not the betrothal…” She should have known they meant her flight and not… ” Yes, I was upset about that!”
“It was a different event you were excited about. I see… and what was that event?”
Oh my, I… I… thought the whole town was aware.”
Anna bit her bottom lip and her eyes fell to the ground. Could she speak of such a thing?
“Speak!” His raised voice startled her from her thoughts.
Her lips moved in answer.
“We’re waiting, woman!”
His face reddened. “Stop this belligerence and answer.”
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to be… But you just said…?”
“Out with it!”
“Can I…? I need to… to whisper this. May I approach?”
The faces before Anna ranged from wide eyes and dropped jaws, to red-faced and pressed lips. Had the request gone too far? Should she, a woman, have requested to draw near to a man; a leader?
“I’m a woman now.” She blurted out quickly. The room mimicked her own shocked silence. Why had she said that out loud?
Tamal recovered first. “Is that what started this whole chain of events?”
“Yes… you can’t be betrothed until you are a woman.”
“I don’t understand.. was your father just waiting for the day?”
“I don’t know, Rabbi. It surprised me too. One minute I was his little girl and the next he was acting as if he wanted to get rid of me before the sunset. My little brother cried all night.”
“Were there too many mouths to feed?”
“Not too many. I have four brothers, my father will only admit to having three.”
“Is that because little Samuel is crippled?”
“Oh, no! He loves Samuel. He has disowned my older brother.”
“And why did he do that?”
“For the same reason, he gave me these bruises. And for the same reason, I won’t marry Joseph.”
“I don’t remember you having a brother named Joseph. What is this?”
The icy grip of fear clenched Anna’s throat. Was this her time?
“This is not just something you tell people. Just look what happened to my brother!”
“What did happen?”
“My father treats him as if he is dead, that’s what happened.. he IS dead in my Father’s eyes… we can’t speak his name in the house. We aren’t supposed to talk to him when he comes home… I have to sneak into the wheat field to see him.”
“You defied your father, then?”
“I… I… had to. I love him.”
“And he loves you?”
“Then why did he beat you?”
“No. Not for sneaking off to see my brother. I don’t think he even knew. He beat me for what I learned from Joseph. For the change it made in me. His word changed my life and brought joy into each sunrise.”
“Your life is already in our hands, woman! You didn’t receive a summons to appear before the Sanhedrin court to discuss how your day is going. You have been betrothed and then left your husband. You do know that the betrothal is a binding agreement, and takes an act of divorce to break it?”
“Yes, I know, but I didn’t drink out of the cup. I never sealed the agreement!”
“So you say; others saw differently. Now, tell me, what defense do you give? Why should we spare your life? Go on, what is your defense?”
A new boldness filled her, and her voice became clear and steady as she spoke her next words. “This… this is my defense… what I have come to believe. What my brother taught me and what I know to be the truth. That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”
White anger filled the Rabbi’s face as he spat out the next words.
“With your own words, you have just condemned yourself to death.”
“No Rabbi, that is where you’re wrong. Those words have given me eternal life.”