parable of the three vice presidents: an occupy wall street tale

Once upon a time, a wealthy CEO of a multinational corporation called his three most trusted employees, his three senior vice presidents, into his office. Sharply dressed in a pinstripe suit and sporting a pure white hair and beard, the CEO explained that the corporation had the opportunity to expand its presence in some crucial emerging markets, so crucial that he wanted to oversee the negotiations and acquisitions of new companies himself. If he could manage to reap these companies profits without having sown their original seed, the CEO knew that the investment would mean huge bonuses for himself, and his three senior vice presidents sitting before him and attentively taking notes assumed that some of that financial windfall might trickle down to them.

 

But because of the nature of the markets, the CEO didn’t know how long he would be away from the corporations headquarters in New York City. So, to his three senior vice presidents, he entrusted the corporation. To one, he gave the five divisions of the corporation’s financial markets and products subsidiaries; to another he gave the two divisions of the corporations’ goods and services departments; and to the third he gave just one division, the corporation’s agricultural and food products. Each was entrusted according to their level of seniority and area of business expertise. And then the CEO closed his laptop, put it in his carry-on suitcase and headed down to the private car waiting to take him to the airport.

The one who had received five divisions immediately began negotiating and trading. He invested around the world, particularly in areas in crisis. His investments in weapons manufacturing and private paramilitary government contractors indirectly propped up dictators who abused the human rights of his people but maintained favorable economic ties to American — and the corporations’ — interests. At the end of two months, he laid off half of his American workforce and began outsourcing to other countries that allowed for abusive working conditions at a pittance of the pay rate. He doubled his boss’ money.

In the same way, the second senior vice president outsourced all the corporation’s production and manufacturing to countries with lax environmental and workplace regulations. He slashed salaries and allowed heavy metals to poison the groundwater, which opened up a new market for the corporation’s bottled water division and poised it for privatizing the entire country’s water supply. Without having to worry about the toxic byproducts of the corporation’s products or about whether the poorly paid workers making those products developed serious health problems as a result, the man doubled his boss’ money.

Seeing the actions of his fellow senior vice presidents, the third man went off down to a public park, dug a hole in a flower bed in the park and buried his division’s balance sheets, employee rolls and stock holdings. Otherwise, he feared the temptation to follow the other vice presidents’ leads was too great. The park was packed with hundreds of poor people holding signs and repeating each other’s words like parrots. Knowing that his master was a harsh man, he did not want to lose the money to theft, so he occupied the flower bed where he had buried the money, refusing to leave it. He did not shower or comb his hair. His suit became disheveled. Eventually, he held up a sign: “BURIED THE CORPORATION.” People high-fived him.
When his master returned, he called the vice presidents. The first two led the CEO through their PowerPoint presentations about their increased profits. The old man, his white beard grown longer and somehow more pristine, clapped his hands in approval, and rewarded them with multi-million dollar bonuses and new divisions to look after.

The third vice president was nowhere to be seen. When the CEO inquired, the two vice presidents explained where he was. Angrily, the CEO, along with this two trusted VPs, stormed down to the park where they found the third vice president standing in a line of people waiting to speak.

The third VP, when he saw the CEO, shivered. He immediately dug up the corporation’s assets and presented them to the CEO, dirty but intact.

“Boss, you are a harsh man. You take what you don’t work for, you exploit others and harvest their souls. You reap what you do not sow,” the third man said. “So I put your assets in the only place where they could do no harm. I buried them, six feet down with the rest of death. But neither am I a thief. Here you have what is yours. And only what is yours. Nothing more!”

The CEO looked around at the protest in the park and at this vice president. “You wicked, lazy, unwashed hippie! How dare you? You don’t even have a coherent message! You knew I reaped where I did not sow and that I was harsh. Why not give your talent to our own investment bankers. At least then, I would get interest! Take his assets!”

The CEO took out his smartphone, stepped away and made a phone call. “As for this worthless vice president, he will be thrown into darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The CEO huffed away back to his office building. A few minutes later, the police, dressed in riot gear, arrived. And there was darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth in the park.

For more exegetical analysis from David on this parable, click here.

This parable was originally posted at Faith Forward.

About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.


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