The Parable of the Three Slaves: An Occupy 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.

David Henson is a writer who lives in Augusta, Georgia, and is currently working on a novel. He received his Master of Arts from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. His meditations on scripture have appeared in Ready the Way: A Walk through Advent (2009), the Christian Century web site, and numerous other blogs. He authors the blogs Unorthodoxology. Find him on Twitter or Facebook.

About David Henson

David Henson is a writer who lives in Augusta, Georgia, and is currently working on a novel. He received his Master of Arts from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. His meditations on scripture have appeared in Ready the Way: A Walk through Advent (2009), the Christian Century web site, and numerous other blogs. He blogs regularly at Patheos. You can find him there, as well as on Twitter or Facebook.

  • http://www.thegodarticle.com/ Mark Sandlin

    I could go on and on about this, but just let me simply say: Brilliant. Thank you.

  • Ulrich vom Hagen

    You are giving a new perspective on a passage of scripture that has been many times interpretated in favour of usury and the rich. Still, I’m not sure if you’re interpretation not making a similar mistake as those who take this passage directly.
    My understanding of this parable is that those who have received grace from Christ, must act according to their own ability and what they have received. The Lord is demanding and requires a good account when He returns to settle what was given to men, the children of God.

  • Bob Braxton

    thanks. I also like the perspective (which you may have read) in The Fear of Beggars: Stewardship and Poverty in Christian Ethics (Ekklesia Project) by Kelly S. Johnson

  • http://davidrhenson.wordpress.com David Henson

    Bob,

    I haven’t read that, but it sounds intriguing. This reading is influenced pretty heavily by Herzog’s Parables as Subversive Speech.

    Ulrich,

    I think the text supports both readings, which is why I love parables so much!

  • Sebastian Morris

    Someone was paying attention to the Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary this past Sunday.

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

    A splendid contemporary retelling. For those who’d like to explore this approach more deeply see: nash.mst.edu.au/index.php/component/…/13-bchenoweth-thesis

  • Dave Mills

    David,
    All I can say is “outstanding” and I think this interpretation is certainly appropriate. A real eye-opener.
    Thank you!
    Dave

  • rick

    what a gastly reinterpretation of the scripture. We are to use the talents we are given. That doesn’t imply or require abuse of workers, war profiteering, or greed. Nor was it in the passage you completely turned on its head.

  • Dave Mills

    rick,
    to see the truth in David’s “reinterpretation” you have to be out of the literal box of mainstream, especially right-wing Christianity. The parables are just that – “parables” – subject to be understood by the hearer within and to be applied as needed – within. Yes, we are to use our talents. David has used his talent of seeing less than obvious truth and sharing it with us in the midst of a very upside down world. Thanks again to David.

    PS I think we’re supposed to rebuke or correct in love. I guess I missed the love part in your post.

  • http://facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

    Rick,

    Sorry you found my re-telling off-putting. I think the text supports both your interpretation and mine.

    I hope you’ll follow the link at the end of the article for a more exegetical essay on it. Hopefully, it will help you see more clearly where I am coming from.

    Thanks all, as always, for reading!

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

    Drat. The link I provided above doesn’t seem to work. instead do a web search for “A Critique of Two Recent Interpretations of The Parable of The Talents Thesis Ben Chenoweth”

  • http://www.al-muses.blogspot.com Al

    Wonderful!

    We are so easily prone to following in the long-held (and incorrect) interpretations of parables–which in this case paint a terrible, unjust view of God (if we understand the ‘boss’ to be God). Then we take that view of God as a shrewd business man, and encourage that kind of capitalist system. This only serves to reinforce the image of a cruel tyrant of a God, sending people to a fiery hell, etc.

    That circular kind of thinking is never held accountable until we start with our knowledge of the character of God based on the whole of scripture (that God is just, fair, loving, compassionate, etc.), and then work to understand the parable in that light.

    You have created an incredibly current rendering of this parable.

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