Matthew walked out of his office to go to lunch, and watched a homeless guy make a beeline for him. This particular guy was one that he remembered walking past in the park several times, always rambling that he was the embodiment of Jesus come back to earth. Last Saturday at the park the guy was talking about how so much of what everyone learned in church and read in the Bible was wrong. It irritated Matthew to see how many people were always gathered around the guy, listening to the nonsense spewing out of his mouth.
When he went to church the following day, he prayed that God would take this man out of the earshot of the public, and he didn’t see him around for the entire next week. So, when he saw him outside of the office on the following Tuesday, it invoked feelings of both fear and anger. Anger because he didn’t want anyone to be misled by this man, and fear because he worried that Satan himself had put this man in his path as a means of temptation. As far as he was concerned, the devil could just take that man straight back to hell where he belonged. He was too strong in his faith to be led astray by this man’s insane ramblings.
His feelings of anger were especially intensified, because he was headed out to lunch with a few of his coworkers and the man just walked right up to him and extended his hand as though they were buddies. Since his friends from work already thought that he was weird for talking so much about the Bible, he had to tamp down his automatic response and be polite. “I’ve seen you in the park many times, brother.”, said the man, “Even though you already know who I am, you can call me Immanuel. For such a believer, it surprises me that you are filled with so much doubt, even though you’ve heard me speaking on so many occasions. I’m going to keep coming to you until you hear the truth Matthew.” The fact that the guy knew his name utterly shocked him, but he brushed it off by telling himself that he had probably just overheard one of his friends call him by name.
While Matthew was pulling his hand away from the man, he could hear his coworkers snickering. He didn’t even bother replying to ‘Immanuel’, but simply turned his back on him and glared at his friends. All the way to the restaurant, they teased him about the Jesus in blue jeans. He squashed his growing anger by reminding himself of how important it was to turn the other cheek. His friends finally stopped teasing him when their food arrived at the table, which is what he had been praying for. Before taking his first bite of food, he added a thank you to God for answering his plea to end his torment and asked that the man wasn’t there when they got back to the office.
Much to his delight, the man was nowhere to be seen. By the time he left for the day, he had completely forgotten about the ordeal. Over the course of the week though, Immanuel was waiting for him outside the office every day. By the time Friday had rolled around, he went to lunch by himself, leaving a little later than his coworkers so that he was able to give him a piece of his mind. As he expected, he was waiting for him. Matthew looked at him and smiled, but kept walking so that he could get him at least a little bit away from the office.
When they reached the corner, Matthew turned on the guy. “Look, you piece of garbage. I am going to make myself clear, so listen up. You are not Jesus, or Immanuel, or whatever the hell you want to call yourself. You are an agent of the devil, and I’m going to make it my mission to get you to stop leading God’s flock astray.”
Immanuel lowered his head with a sad look on his face before replying. “My heart is saddened, friend. I don’t know how else to try to get through to you. It is you, not me, who is leading the flock astray. I’ve been watching over the last few thousand years and patiently hoping that all of you would catch on to the way that your fellow man has perverted my message. Things have gone too far for me to wait any longer, so I had to come. I’m not giving up on you Matthew. I’ll leave you for today, but I ask that you please think about the things you’ve heard me say.”
With that Immanuel turned and walked away, leaving Matthew to stomp off in a huff. Instead of going to eat, he went to the parking garage and sat in his car praying, asking God why he was testing him so greatly. He felt like it was almost too much to bear. As he sat in his car, he knew what he was going to have to do if things continued the way that they had been. Upon looking at the clock he saw that he was almost going to be late getting back to work, so he rushed back to the office to finish the day. After telling everyone that he was on a deadline and wasn’t to be disturbed, he went into his office and closed the door for the rest of the day.
He was so distracted that he lost track of time, and when he noticed that it was almost seven, he rushed out of the office and drove home. Upon pulling up to his apartment building, he only parking spot that he could find was around the side of the building next to the dumpster. He heard some rustling in the darkness and turned. Immanuel stepped out from behind the bushes. Immediately, the man began spouting off the error of Matthew’s beliefs…about how it wasn’t God, but man who had placed the messages of judgement and hatred in the Bible. He even had the nerve to tell Matthew that there was no such place as hell, and that people certainly would be sent there for the reasons everyone believed that they would if it did exist.
Matthew had all that he could take. So, he reached into his bag and pulled out the Swiss army knife that he kept there. He rounded on the guy with a reddened face, clenched his teeth, and said, “You are the antichrist! I asked God today in my prayers to make you appear tonight if I was right about you, and there you are.”
Immanuel begged him to think about what he was doing, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Matthew opened the knife and began wildly stabbing the man. When Immanuel crumpled to the ground, Matthew finally calmed down. He stood over the fallen man, asking God to tell him what to do with the body. While he waited for the answer to come to him, he noticed that there were some strange things happening. As the blood continued to flow out of the man on the ground, much to Matthew’s horror, marks of the stigmata began to appear on the man’s body.
As the police pulled up to the scene, Matthew was still screaming and crying, begging for forgiveness. When he asked the officers if they saw the marks, they said that they couldn’t, which was their testimony in court. After he was found guilty at trial and the judge asked if he’d like to make a statement, Matthew begged to be put to death for what he had done. “I killed Jesus and deserve to be put to death for my sin. I now know that he was not the antichrist, I am.”
“In light of your statement, Mr. Abbadon, I am finding you to be not guilty by reason of mental defect and sentence you to life in the mental wing of the prison.”
Matthew cried out, begging the judge to change his mind, to no avail. As they placed him in his cell and locked the door, Matthew realized how just this punishment was, because death would have been a mercy compared to where he would spend the rest of his days.