The Parable of the Maze

Jesus returned to Earth and came to America. For two weeks there was great excitment and many television shows were devoted to speculation about the meaning and purpose of his return. But as he did no miracles and announced no new teachings, interest faded until he had only a handful of followers.

For an entire year he wandered through America, saying nothing, but simply watching and learning. He toured the large cities and small towns. He saw the mountains of Colorado and the skyscrapers of New York. He rode on tractors as they planted in Iowa, and he joined the migrants as they harvested in California. He played golf with the rich, and ate meals from dumpsters with the homeless. He watched television in the lobbies of nursing homes, and played softball at grade schools during recess. He listened to debates in Congress and arguments in diners. But he said nothing.

Then one day he was asked a question. "Master," said the questioner, "in your day it was important to help the poor, since many people were poor and a person who was born poor had no chance to advance. But here in America, only a few are poor, and if a child is born poor but works hard in school, the government will pay for his education. Why should we concern ourselves with the poor, when there is a way out if they would only take it?"

Jesus answered, "Once there was a maze, and at the end of the maze were all the comforts and pleasures that a person might want. Some people were placed at the end of the maze, and they immediately began feasting and celebrating. Some people were placed in the maze, but near the exit. When they heard the noise of the celebration, they walked towards it and quickly found their way out.

"Some people were placed deep in the maze, but were given maps that were marked with their starting positions. And though it took time and concentration, nearly all of them made their way out. Others were placed in the maze without a map, but were given the promise that an exit existed, and had been found by many. These people wandered for a long time, and compared notes with everyone they met. And in time many of them also found their way out of the maze.

"Still others were placed in the maze with no map and no promise. Some were told that there was no feast. Some were told that there was a feast, but that the maze did not lead to it. Some were told that the maze had once led to a feast, but that the way had since been blocked up. Of these less favored ones, many ran randomly from place to place, and though a few of these stumbled out of the maze, most eventually collapsed from exhaustion and stayed where they had fallen. Many others decided to break down the walls of the maze, and beat on them with all of their might. But in the end, they were the ones who were broken, and they stayed where they had fallen. And many others watched the running and beating and falling, and they said to themselves, 'This is pointless. I will stay where I was placed and not waste my effort.'

"In time many people appeared at the celebration. Eventually, it was discovered that there was a high place from which to look down into the maze, and out of curiousity many people went up to it.

A person who had been placed at the end of the maze said, 'Who are those people, and why don't they come to the celebration?'

And a person who had been placed near the exit said, 'But the maze is so simple. Are they stupid? Why don't they just leave?'

A person with a map said, 'They are lazy. See that man sitting there doing nothing. If he would just go there, and go there, and turn left, he would be out.'

And a person who had been given a promise said, 'They have no character. They look around for awhile, but when they see that the way is difficult, they give up.'

"And I say: Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear."

The questioner went away confused, and even the handful of followers, though they were glad that Jesus had begun to teach, were disappointed. That night, over cheeseburgers at a truck stop, one asked Jesus, "The story of the maze and the celebration, what did it mean?"

Jesus himself was disappointed at this question, but he gave no sign of it. "The maze is America," he said, "and the feast is success. Those who start at the end of the maze are like those who are born rich. They will have what they want whether or not they make any effort. Those who start near the end of the maze are like those born into a thriving business. They must put in effort of their own, but if they do their success is assured.

"Those given maps are like the children of successful professionals and skilled workers. They do not inherit their parents' position, but their parents' example guides them flawlessly. They know that if they learn useful skills, they will be successful. Those given a promise are like children from loving, supportive homes. They grow up with faith in themselves and their abilities. They say, 'If others can succeed, then I can too.' And after they have looked around enough to see how others succeed, they do the same.

"Those without maps and without promises are like those who are born poor and raised without good examples or faith in themselves. Those who run are like the many who put a great deal of effort into the search for success, but the effort is misdirected into longshots like athletics or entertainment. A few succeed, but the great majority get nowhere. Those who beat on the walls are like the many who believe that society's rules are their enemies. They become criminals or revolutionaries, and their lives are filled with violence and hate. Those who remain where they were placed are like those who see all effort as ending in failure. They take the path of least resistance and raise children who will be just like them.

"The people standing on the high place are like the man who asked the question. They believe that all lives are like their own, and so they understand nothing."