Miracle Dead Ahead
He’d been driving for quite some time on a rural road that seemed to go on forever. Mature crops—corn, wheat, alfalfa, soybeans—covered the undulating valley on both sides of him. The resplendent sun was high in the sky. Elongated cumulus clouds hugged the horizon. Both of his front windows were open, and the scent of fresh-cut grass hung thickly in the air.
At last he perceived what he was looking for, and softly exclaimed, “Finally!”
He pulled over and stared stolidly at the billboard with the bearded man in a three-piece gray suit and rimless round glasses. He stood on a podium. A horde of people with outstretched hands surrounded him. At the bottom of the billboard was this large caption in neon green letters:
NEED A MIRACLE? JUDAS ARNOLD CAN SUPPLY IT!
“He looks like Santa Claus,” the plain-looking man prosaically remarked, “but unlike Santa, his miracles come at a steep price.”
Judas Arnold was a popular “preacher” who held miracle-crusades across the land. But to be healed, or find perfect love, or get out of debt, or become rich, attendees had to first part with $1000, which Arnold called a “seed.” He claimed the money was used for planting churches, and related numerous examples of sick, lonely, destitute souls who had faithfully planted seeds and reaped a bountiful harvest.
Despite being exposed as a huckster, an obvious quack, legions of gullible individuals over the past seven years had readily forked over $1000 each. Plenteous civil lawsuits had been filed against him, he was thrice arrested for extortion, once nearly fatally beaten to death by an irate mob, but thus far nothing or no one had been able to stop his corrupt “ministry.”
“Today it all comes to an end,” averred the driver of the nondescript, four-door, powder-blue sedan.
According to the billboard, the current crusade was located at the end of a gravel road just past Kuhn’s Farm Market.
He checked for traffic, tapped on the gas.
Half a mile down the road, he came upon Kuhn’s.
As he proceeded slowly along the gravel road, he heard an amplified voice say, “Step right up, brethren! By the power vested in me today, you will receive your miracle!”
He drove a bit more.
“The $1000 you seed today will forever change your life!”
Thinking of Arnold’s previous pauper-status and his present opulent lifestyle, the Seeker (for this is what we shall presently call him) rejoined in a disagreeable undertone, “It surely has changed yours.”
“Don’t be stingy! The Lord loves a cheerful giver!”
At the end of the road was a wide gate, which was closed. To the left a burly man in a black suit stood inside a covered cubicle. A thirty-foot-long colorful banner hung between two mature oak trees just beyond the gate, bearing this “promise”:
PLANT YOUR SEED AND REAP YOUR MIGHTY HARVEST
His entire bogus ministry is based on nothing but money, the Seeker thought.
The burly man held up his hand, but he was benignly smiling. The Seeker stopped and pleasantly regarded him.
“Are you here for the crusade, sir?”
“Is there something else going on?” the Seeker rejoined.
The big man’s benign smile swiftly vanished. “Just the crusade.”
“That’s what I’m here for.”
A quick nod. “That’ll be ten dollars.”
The Seeker frowned. “When did Judas start charging admission?”
“The high cost of fuel compelled him to do it.”
A thoughtful pause. “How many people in attendance today?”
“So far, 746.”
The Seeker looked straight ahead. A mammoth orange tent was visible through the oak forest. Money. He’s all about money.
“Are you entering or not?”
The Seeker handed the attendant a ten-dollar bill.
“God bless you, brother,” he said; but his heart was not in his words.
“Peace be with you,” the Seeker agreeably returned. Then, sternly: “Find another job.”
The large man furrowed his brow. “Huh?”
“Judas Arnold’s ministry will be ending today.”
A scornful laugh. Then, curtly: “What are you—a prophet?”
The money collector snorted. “Really.”
He chewed his lip.
“The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming.”
“Congratulations. You can quote Scripture. Heck, even I can do that.”
“Can you kindly open the gate?”
The attendant shrugged, and did so. The Seeker gave a little wave, and motored away.
For several minutes the money collector stared thoughtfully at the powder-blue sedan. He then drew a deep breath, and faced the short row of cars that had collected behind the Seeker.
* * *
Inside the orange tent, Judas Arnold paced back and forth across the stage as he barked through a wireless gold microphone. The throng hung on to his every word. Behind him, a sizeable, square, aboveground pool was filled with several feet of water. It had steps leading up to it, and an assortment of people were kneeling, standing, floating on their backs in the water. A wooden cross was anchored in the ground behind the pool; it bore a placard with the words JESUS HEALS. A brawny man in a black suit stood at the bottom of the steps, collecting $1000 for each person who desired to enter the pool.
“Twenty years ago,” said Judas, “I was flat broke, on drugs, alone, suicidal, living in my car. And the preacher at the church I wandered into one desperate day said that God told him that fifty congregants were going to become millionaires, but they had to seed $1000. So I raced to the ATM up the street, drained my account—it was all I had to my name—rushed back to the church, and dropped the cash in the offering box in front of the stage.” He smugly smiled. “And today I have three Rolls Royces in the garage of my thirty-room mansion, my own furniture company, am off drugs, and have ten million in the bank.”
“Praise the Lord!” cried a chorus of people.
“And the same thing can happen to you if you seed $1000!”
Standing fifteen feet from the stage, the Seeker stared raptly, suspiciously, at the Christian impostor. The moment I first laid eyes on him, I saw hypocrisy oozing from every pore.
“So, no matter what you need, if you plant your seed in good soil, you’ll reap a mighty harvest! And the good soil is this ministry!”
“Amen, brother!” a woman shouted.
“Where does the Bible promise this?” the Seeker vociferated.
Judas focused on the tall man in the white slacks and long-sleeved lavender shirt. “Matthew. The Parable of the Sower.”
“Can you recite the verses?”
Arnold said, “Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”
“You’re perverting the meaning of that Scripture,” the Seeker accused.
“I’m doing no such thing!”
“You want to know its true meaning?”
Arnold swallowed. “Feel free, brother.”
“These are Jesus’ words, just so you know,” the Seeker clarified. Then, facing the crowd, he stentoriously said, “But the seed failing on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”
Utter silence ensued.
Turning round, the Seeker said to the bogus preacher, “Yet you told these poor, desperate souls, and many others before them, that if they seeded $1000, they’d receive a mighty harvest—typically, money—which is unequivocally a lie.”
Clenching his jaw and free fist, Arnold took a step forward and asked in a low, minacious tone, “You’re calling me a liar?”
The huckster was breathing heavily through his nose, now.
“Furthermore,” said the Seeker, “I’ve heard you claim that a godly man who didn’t seed wouldn’t receive a miracle, but the one who wasn’t right with God would?”
“Who are you!?” Judas demanded.
“The Condemnor. And I’ve come to put a stop to your corrupt ministry.”
Two bodyguards in black suits stood abreast at the base of the stage. Tramping up to them, Arnold enjoined, “Get him out of here! Now!”
The men promptly started towards the Condemnor. They’d only gone seven or eight feet, and suddenly stopped walking.
“I get him out of here!!”
“I can’t move,” said the larger one.
“Neither can I, boss.”
“He’s a sorcerer!” a man bellowed.
“The devil!” said another.
“Judas is the devil,” said a woman. “He took all my money at his last crusade, and nothing changed!”
“Then why are you back?” someone asked.
“I complained to his ministry, and they said I didn’t get my miracle ’cause I lacked faith, but if I came here today and seeded another $1000 in faith, this time I’d get my miracle.”
To Arnold, the Condemnor said, “I’m going to put your ministry, your promises to the test. Do you have a problem with this?”
“What kind of test?” Judas asked in a decidedly conciliatory tone.
“This one.” The Condemnor pointed to the snake-oil salesman, and he gently collapsed to the floor of the wooden stage.
Oohs and ahs passed through the crowd.
To the two paralyzed men, the Condemnor said, “Carry him over to the pool. Everyone gather round.”
“I can’t move.”
“Neither can I.”
“Walk,” the Condemnor directed.
They tried, and could now move.
“Do what I said.”
“Yes sir,” said the smaller man.
The Condemnor circled the stage. The attendees followed closely behind. The bodyguards brought the inert “preacher” up to the steps, and set him on his back in the brown grass.
To Judas, the Condemnor asked, “Do you believe you’ll be healed if you pay the man $1000 before you go into the pool?”
Arnold gazed vacantly at the sky.
“Do you, Judas?”
The throng looked on with crossed arms, hands on their hips, canted heads, pursed lips, scowls.
“I can’t hear you,” said the Condemnor.
Still no answer.
“How much money do you have on you?” the Condemnor asked the afflicted “minister.”
“I forget,” Judas croaked.
“Check his pockets,” the Condemnor ordered.
The bodyguards did.
“How much is there?”
“I have six hundred.”
“I have eight hundred.”
“Pay the man $1000, the Condemnor instructed, “and put Judas in the water.”
“Can I take off my shoes first?” the smaller bodyguard asked.
Both men doffed their shoes and socks. The larger man then handed the money collector ten $100 bills.
Squatting down beside Arnold, the Condemnor quietly said in his ear, “Do you wish to make a full confession and spare yourself further embarrassment?”
“My ministry is legitimate. I don’t extort money from people.”
Defiant to the end, the Condemnor thought. Then, aloud: “Okay, gentlemen, immerse him in the healing waters, then step away from him.”
“Please. My suit cost me $3000,” Judas implored.
“I don’t even own a suit,” a man angrily interposed, “and you spent $3000 on yours?”
“You want to be stripped naked first?” the Condemnor asked.
Arnold forcefully exhaled, shook his head.
Judas Arnold shut his eyes as he was carried up the steps and laid in the pool on his back.
“You’ll float until your clothes get saturated,” the Condemnor boomed, “then sink below the surface. Can you move yet?”
“I…don’t want to drown.”
“You said anyone who gave your ministry $1000 will be healed in the pool. The $1000 was paid. Get up and walk out of the pool!”
“Plant your seed and reap your mighty harvest!” said the Condemnor. “Reap your harvest! Rise and walk out!”
Arnold began to sink.
“Why can’t you walk?”
“You put a curse on me.”
“You’ve cursed yourself.”
Water drained into Arnold’s mouth; he violently coughed. “Help—”
From the throng came a variety of caustic statements:
“He’s a con man!”
“He’s a cheat!”
“Run him out of town!”
“Throw him in jail!
“Reap your harvest! Rise and walk out!” the Condemnor repeated.
“I can’t!!” Judas Arnold shrieked.
“Because I’m a fake and a fraud!!!”
The Condemnor drew a little breath, closed his eyes, gently nodded, and opened his eyes.
“You can walk now, Judas. Get up, and leave this place, and disappear forever. But before you do, the $1000 you extorted from everyone today will be returned, as well as the ten-dollar admission fee. Are we clear?”
The throng watched in amazement as Judas Arnold sat up, then stood up, descended the steps, and ambled off with his head hung low.
To the crowd, the Condemnor said with authority, “Billy Graham was the greatest modern preacher who ever lived, and he never, ever asked for money at his crusades. And though he’s left this earth, and is with the Lord, I encourage you to watch his old crusades to hear the true message of the Gospel. Peace be with all of you!”
When he started walking away, a rotund, gray-haired woman he passed asked, “Are you an angel, sir?”
The Condemnor stopped, gazed at her.
He benevolently smiled, said, “May the Lord’s light shine upon you,” and walked away with every eye there upon him.