It’s Sunday.
The double doors were open wide. I went in quietly and sat at the back.
The service was in full swing.
The pastor was in form as usual. Today is probably my 10th visit. I like the fact that they don’t do that “let’s recognize first time visitors” thing.
Anyway it’s no longer my first visit though I guess I am still strictly speaking, a visitor.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The service has ended. But I make no move to leave. I have business with the man of God.

I sat there and watched him hold court at the exit as the members filed past. Judging by the way he greeted them, it was obvious he knew everyone. Shaking each hand, a few words here and there: “How is the family; it’s been a while; The little one is growing really fast; I haven’t seen your husband in church in a while; You should come for the fellowship during the week; The men’s group is meeting next week; Don’t be a stranger now. …”

I have heard it all before. From him and many others just like him.

I know he holds a brief counseling session after each service when most of the parishioners have left except those who want to see him for one thing or the other.

He will attend to all comers for the next hour or so. Today’s not particularly busy. There was only one other person beside myself in the church.

I watched the old lady go into the little room. Thankfully she didn’t stay long.

As she walked towards the exit doors, the pastor stuck his head out the door and gave me an inviting smile.

Well. It’s time.

I got up and walked up to the door.

He greeted me warmly and offered me a seat.

“Hello sir. How are you doing this fine Sunday. I have noticed you during a couple of our services. It’s always nice to see a new face. You have probably noticed our church is not so big. I know almost everyone by name.”

“But forgive me. Can I offer you something to drink? But I am sorry we only keep soft drinks here. I keep the strong stuff in my quarters.” He said with a conspiratorial wink.

I smiled back and said no.

“Ok. So what can I do for you sir.”

“I am a sinner.” I said.

“Ain’t we all”, he interjected. “That’s why we have hope in the redeeming blood of Christ who has paid for our sins.”

“True. True.” I nodded in agreement. I let the quiet settle between us for a few seconds. We both appeared contemplative.

“So I have always wondered if all sins are equal. Because I am having issues treating them the same.”

“What do you mean?” He asked.

“Well,” I said. “Let me give you a couple of examples. I do business and a lot of times I need to grease the wheels of progress if I am to succeed. It’s either that or I pack up and go hunt moose or backpack across Europe or something. If you understand what I mean.”

“I also don’t see any harm in indulging in a little of this and a little of that. If you understand what I mean.”

“Well, I could say I do son. But can you be a little more plain on the second example.” He asked.

“Well, you know, a little weed from time to time now that it’s legal. A few pills to get in the party mood sometimes.”

“Ok. Well. I must say we can’t allow our standard to be the law of this world only. Some things are naturally wrong and our conscience convicts us accordingly if only we would listen.”

“What if I feel no pangs of regret afterwards nor any mental discomfort during the act?” I asked.

“I am glad you said that. Let me read something to you out of the bible. 1 Timothy 4:2. You see, we must let our conscience become seared.”

“But I don’t think my conscience is seared because I do get those mental anguish when I do certain things.”

“Such as what?” He was somewhere between inquisitive and exasperated.

“You know. This and that.”

“Well. I really don’t know. Can you tell me plainly son.”

“Ok. But I think we are digressing a little sir. My actual question was if all sins deserve equal punishment.”

“I should think so. In fact that’s the case. There are no little sins and no big sins. All sins will be punished equally unless the sinner repents. Let me read a couple of passages to you. Romans 6:23. You see, the wages of sin is death and God commands us to repent and sin no more. In John 8, Jesus commands the woman he saved from being stoned to death to go and sin no more. Otherwise she would appropriately get death as the wages for her sins.”

“But I am still not certain. Let’s say I slap someone in anger and never apologized though I am wrong even though I think I am right. I personally don’t think that’s a sin if the person was acting the fool. But I guess a better example would be the young man that jumped ahead of me in a queue. I asked him quietly to, you know, step back in line but he had a mouth on him. So I took a brass-knuckle to his face. He didn’t die but he thought he did for a minute or two and I am sure he wished he had the following day. Now that I think about it I could have handled it differently.”

“Eh. Young man. You seem to have a violent bent. But violence never solves anything. It just escalates matters.”  The pastor was visibly becoming worried.

“Not really. With the right level of violence you will be surprised how quickly you can bring a matter to a satisfactory close. Of course not always satisfactory for all concerned. But you catch my drift.”

“I am really getting concerned about you son. I think we need to say a little prayer at this point.”

I humor him. He grabs my hand and went on for a couple of minutes. I said amen at all the appropriate places.

His hitherto discomfort seemed to have abated a little.

“Now young man as I was saying, violence is not a solution. But you were saying?”

“Oh yes. I was saying I don’t think all sins are created equal, but you are taking an opposing view it seems.”

“My point is this. Take the fellow I took the brass-knuckle to his face. Granted his features were never the same again, but at least he survived. I even heard he found a lady that could stand him enough to be his wife. Good luck to both of them. I guess that was a sin.”

“Do you think I should hypothetically speaking, suffer the same punishment for that as for shooting some fellow who was abusing a little kid in broad day light. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t kill him. I just shot out his kneecaps. He’s been in a wheel chair ever since. I think it’s a sin that I did that actually. Because I took something from him that I could not give back. But I got rid of a greater evil with a little controlled temporary evil.”

The pastor was looking at me with a strange look in his eyes. His jaw was slack. But after I stopped speaking he realized where he was and quickly regained his composure.

“Young man. You do lead an interesting life. So much violence! You know the psychologists would say you are compensating for something. Was there abuse in your childhood perhaps?”

“Actually, no. I couldn’t have wished for a more adjusted and happy childhood. But we were discussing whether all sins are worthy of the same punishment.”

“Yes. Yes. Yes.” He said hurriedly.

“So what sort of punishment do you think those two sins will command?”

“The bible is clear on that point my son. The wages of sin – all sin – is death. Except the sinner repents of course.”

“Death is not such a bad thing.” I countered. Didn’t David say in the Psalms that there is no remembrance of anything for the dead?”

“True but that’s the Old Testament. It’s been overtaken by the New Testament. “

“So why do we still bother with it then?”

“Well the whole bible is written for our instruction and edification. You see there is no present without the past, so it would have been incomplete if we were handed down only the New Testament.”

“Ok. But if I may steer you back to the crux of our discussion.”

“Some matters son, are a little dicey you know. For example, you could have reported the child molester to the police. He would have been punished appropriately by the law.”

“Yes. But he would have been back out on the street in a couple of years. And who knows what he would have done next? You know crimes of that sort just get escalated by the perpetrators with every round that goes by. I think I put a stop to that.”

“But still. …” He was trying to marshal his thoughts.

I cut in: “You know you already said we shouldn’t limit ourselves to just the laws of this world. Now that I think of it, I believe I was executing God’s judgment on that chap. Just like Herod was consumed by worms on the spot when he ascribed God’s glory to himself.”

“Son, that’s a little different. A different regime and a different time. And an angel smote him if you remember.”

“Can you really be sure I am not an angel, pastor?”

“I am sorry son, but highly unlikely. Given the vices you listed earlier.”

“True. I am not an angel. Just following that line of thought to see where it might lead.”

“So pastor. As we were saying. Or as I was asking, I really do not think all sins ought to deserve the same amount of “reward” but of course I can’t claim to be a bible scholar which is one of the two reasons why I am here.”

“Which reminds me. A little side story. I used to be in the military. I left after I came back from my last tour. Because I realized I was fighting for a cause that was of benefit to only a few power hungry individuals in high places. But not only that, it was the atrocities we committed under the guise of liberating the country from the tyranny of its previous rulers. The problem was that in the paranoia of the war, it was difficult to know who was friend and who was foe. As to be expected, a lot of innocent people paid the ultimate price. People see some of the results of the carnage on their TV screens and cringe, but I tell you, living through it; actually being there; participating in it – you couldn’t even begin to imagine the horror.”

“I came back disillusioned and for a couple of years I was lost and haunted by the eyes of those I had killed. Time truly heals all wounds. Because with time those eyes faded away and I could begin to function properly in the society again. But I wasn’t really the same person that went to war. I had lost something. I guess you could say it was my innocence. Coupled with the fact that I couldn’t get any reasonable job after I returned, I just drifted into what came naturally.”

“Which was? Sorry. Is?”

“You know. Do for people what they are too scared to do for themselves.”

“Like what?”

“You know. Every – thing.” I put emphasis on the word.

“Sorry. That went over my head son. But it sounds illegal. Is it?”

“Well. I guess it depends on whose point of view you are looking at it from and also whose laws. If you catch my drift.”

“Em. Huh. I am a little confused as to where this is heading. Not sure you are really here for counseling. Are you?”

I think he is trying to get rid of me.

“Well. True. How did you know? You are truly perceptive.  Must be the training. You know, a man of the cloth such as yourself.”

He beamed a little despite himself. Flattery does wonders.

“Which of course leads to the second reason I am here.”

I leaned back a little. He followed suit.

“So pastor. Certain people in your congregation despite how small the church is, believe you are a stumbling block that’s preventing the church from growing.”

“Now I am not a man to take an assignment lightly. I do my own research and only accept a commission when I am convinced of the merits of the case.”

“Pastor. You have been dipping in the church till. If it was only a little here and there to tide you over, I wouldn’t even bring this up.”

His face was starting to take on the look of a trapped animal.

I continued: “But you have been really naughty. That condo by the beach. And the Maserati parked in the garage.” I shook my head from side to side.

“Not to mention Angela who is neither your wife nor your staff but lives free like a queen on the regular anonymous (you think) transfers you send to her. There are at least three people in the know now – you, Angela and myself. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, you have been coveting some of your parishioners’ wives under the guise of spiritual guidance. That one, only you, myself and the ladies concerned know about.”

“But I guess you are still wondering where all this is going.”

At this point, I sat up, slowly brought out my gun from my jacket and placed it on the table. His eyes brightened with fear. His mouth moved, but no sound came out. His eyes were fixated on the gun.

“You see I am in a dilemma. I have never killed a man of the cloth before. And while it should just be another job since you have aptly demonstrated you are a man as fallible as any other, there is still this little part of me that screams out in protest against what I have set my mind to do. That bit in the bible that’s so often misquoted and taken out of context comes to mind: do my prophet no harm. But luckily, you are not a prophet by any stretch of the imagination. But that still leaves me with the fact that you have a flock to look after spiritually and I see you haven’t done too badly there. You know that saying – do what I say, not what I do. That’s what you have been preaching and really, you have helped quite a few of your members you know.”

He nodded eagerly. Maybe he thought that might be his salvation.

“I was almost decided in my mind, but you have truly helped me. You have put my mind at ease now. Really. Because if all sins are created equal, and the wages of sin is death, then you deserve what’s coming to you.”

I got up. Cocked the gun and leveled it at him. The scope was dead center between his eyes. I know the path the bullet will take – in through the front, straight through his brain to exit at the base of his skull. Even if by some earth-moving miracle he survives, he won’t be in a position to do any finger-pointing or do anything for that matter.

He first began to whimper and plead for his life. Then he was literally bawling with snort running down his face.

“Pastor. You have committed a great sin. And I have chosen to be the punishment of God unto you. If you had not committed so great a sin, a punishment like me would not have been sent to you.”

He cried even louder.

“Ah. Pastor. I am disappointed. I expected you would take it like a man or better still; take it like a man of God. Here we go.”

I fired two shots. Everything went silent. I walked out the room and shortly thereafter I was out in the sunshine. It was a bright day – it was a good day to be alive.

I really should stop doing this. Someday someone was going to force my hand and things might turn out ugly. There are real bullets in the gun. But was I really ready to go all the way?

Behind me I could hear him in the church. His distress was audible in his voice but the only thing he kept repeating was “Dear God!”. I could picture him on his knees rocking back and forth in front of the beautiful cross above the altar. I hope I had scared him straight enough to change his ways or at least enough to lose the robe.

I brought out the little book and put a little tick next to his name. The list was still long. I won’t be back in this church for a while. But I will be keeping an eye on him – that is, if he remains there.

I walked slowly away. Little children were running after butterflies in the park a little distance away.

It was so long ago. On a day such as this. When I proudly uttered those same words as I brought carnage and destruction, and some said the hordes of hell, to the lands of the east. Like Herod, I thought I was a god and so I would announce to my conquests, “I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”

Now I have been cursed to wander the earth until the second coming in order to atone for my sins.

You see, my name is Khan.

Kublai Khan.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

NOTE: the “punishment” quote was actually made by Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan’s grandfather.