In Denmark a boy named Goske was accused of burning down the barn of the lord of the estate. No one saw him commit the arson but witnesses saw him in the area. The boy’s mother, a peasant widow, offered up desperate pleas for Goske, her only son, but the boy was arrested. Whether innocent or guilty, Goske would be made an example to the other peasants.
It is a heavy responsibility to preside over a large estate. There is the upkeep of the mansion and outbuildings, farming operations, financial accounting, care of the peasants who live on and work the land, and civil engagements with those of equal social standing. One of the old man’s many responsibilities was to decide what to do with a youth arson.
The boy could be sent to prison, forced into the military, or even be let off if the landowner so decreed. This situation may have been occupying the lord’s mind as he was riding among his rye fields when a peasant woman begged his attention. It was the widow Anne-Marie, the mother of Goske, the accused arsonist. "Please help my son, my only son" she cried!
"Here is what I can do for you," the rich man said. This field of rye takes three men one day to cut it. If you can, by yourself, harvest this field, I shall release your son back to you. If you fail, you will never see him again." So moved was she by the lord’s offer she kissed his riding boot.
Sunrise saw Anne-Marie swinging the scythe against the stalks of rye. Onward she moved, never stopping, never pausing, through the morning hours, the early afternoon hours, and into the evening. Exhaustion to set in. She stumbled. Someone offered her water. In sympathy someone cut a stalk of rye. "No! No one may help her! She must cut the rye herself!" bellowed the lord of the estate.
Through it all the landowner watched. "Let her have her son back," his nephew implored. "Hasn’t she done enough?" "No," said the rich man. "The role of gods is not to interfere with the tragedies of man. As owners of this estate we play the role of gods in the lives of our servants. We will watch, but we will not interfere. She knows the arrangement. If she cuts the field, her son is returned. If she fails, she will never see him again."
So Anne-Marie pressed on. Townspeople came to watch. The lord ordered her son released from prison so he could observe his mother’s work. He followed behind her, stricken with guilt at the slavery imposed upon his mother for his sake, yet powerless to help her.
Finally, the last stalk of rye was struck. Anne-Marie sunk to her knees. Her arms dropped. Women bystanders cried. Her son knelt beside her. The lord stepped forward. "Your son is free, Anne-Marie. You have done a good day’s work," he said.
Anne-Marie collapsed into the arms of Goske. She breathed her last in the embrace of the son she died to save. The lord commemorated her sacrifice by placing a stone in the field which the peasants named, "Sorrow-Acre." (Isak Dinesen, Winter’s Tales).
At another time and in another place yet another plot of ground was named to symbolize the deaths that occurred there. It was called Golgotha or, The Place of the Skull (Matt. 27:33; Luke 23:33). Here there was no pompous lord standing aloof, unmoved by the suffering of his servants. No, in this field the Lord interfered with the tragedy of the peasants by sending his own son to die for their desperate plight. "For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)