The Parable of the Sandwich Sign
I am the voice of the one calling out in the desert: “Make the road straight for the Lord.” John 1:23
The faces of the three men were solemn as the mayor informed them of the catastrophe. “The rains have washed away the bridge. During the night many cars drove over the edge and into the river.”
“What can we do?” asked one.
“You must stand on the side of the road and warn the drivers not to make the left turn. Tell them to take the one-lane road that follows the side of the river.”
“But they drive so fast! How can we warn them?”
“By wearing these sandwich signs,” the mayor explained, producing three wooden double-signs, hinged together to hang from one’s shoulders. “Stand at the crossroads so drivers can see these signs until I can get someone out there to fix the bridge.”
And so the men hurried out to the dangerous curve and put the signs over their shoulders.
“The drivers should see me first,” spoke one. The others agreed. His sign warned, “Bridge Out!” He walked several hundred yards before the turn and took his post.
“Perhaps I should be second, so the drivers will slow down,” spoke the one whose sign declared, “Reduce Speed.”
“Good idea,” agreed the third. “I’ll stand here at the curve so people will get off the wide road and onto the narrow.” His sign read simply “Take Right Road” and had a finger pointing toward the safe route.
And so the three men stood with their three signs ready to warn the travelers of the washed-out bridge. As the cars approached, the first man would stand up straight so the drivers could read, “Bridge Out.”
Then the next would gesture to his sign, telling the cars to “Reduce Speed.”
And as the motorists complied, they would then see the third sign, “Right Road Only.” And though the road was narrow, the cars complied and were safe. Hundreds of lives were saved by the three sign holders. Because they did their job, many people were kept from peril.
But after a few hours they grew lax in their task.
The first man got sleepy. “I’ll sit where people can read my sign as I sleep,” he decided. So he took his sign off his shoulders and propped it up against a boulder. He leaned against it and fell asleep. As he slept his arm slid over the sign, blocking one of the two words. So rather than read “Bridge Out,” his sign simply stated “Bridge.”
The second didn’t grow tired, but he did grow conceited. The longer he stood warning the people the more important he felt. A few even pulled off to the side of the road to thank him for the job well done.
“We might have died had you not told us to slow down,” they applauded.
“You’re so right,” he thought to himself. “How many people would be lost were it not for me?”
Presently he came to think that he was just as important as his sign. So he took it off, set it up on the ground, and stood beside it. As he did, he was unaware that he, too, was blocking one word of his warning. He was standing in front of the word “Speed.” All the drivers could read was the word “Reduce.” Most thought he was advertising a diet plan.
The third man was not tired like the first, nor self-consumed like the second. But he was concerned about the message of his sign. “Right Road Only,” it read.
It troubled him that his message was so narrow, so dogmatic. “People should be given a choice in the matter. Who am I to tell them which is the right road and which is the wrong road?”
So he decided to alter the wording of the sign. He marked out the word “Only” and changed it to “Preferred.”
“Hmm,” he thought, “that’s still too strident. One is best not to moralize. So he marked our the word “Preferred” and wrote “Suggested.”
That still didn’t seem right, “Might offend people if they think I’m suggesting I know something they don’t.”
So he thought and thought and finally marked through the word “Suggested” and replaced it with a more neutral phrase.
“Ahh, just right,” he said to himself as he backed off and read the words:
“Right Road—One of Two Equally Valid Alternatives.”
And so as the first man slept and the second stood and the third altered the message, one car after another plunged into the river.
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