dispatches to and from

nathan f. elmore

Dispatches to and from faith, culture, and things in between

The Parable of the Summer Help in the Office

A modern re-mix of a story found in St. Matthew’s gospel. For Richmond, Virginia, with love. Originally narrated in the Sunday gathering of Imago Dei on September 26th. Matthew's story is here.

The kingdom of God is like a white teenager from a private school in Midlothian, Virginia, who went to clerk on June 1st for a top-flight law firm in Richmond which handled immigration law for the Commonwealth.

“For the summer, I will pay your son $5,000” the lead lawyer had said to the teenager’s dad over Memorial Day weekend, and over drinks at The Lucky Buddha in the Slip. “How does that sound? It’s good work; the days are often long.”

“Perfect,” the teenager’s dad replied, sipping on his single malt 30-year Glenfiddich scotch. “My son would be honored to work in such an important office in this city.”

The lead lawyer picked up the bill and left a cigar – for the teenager’s dad – from his Rocky Patel Seasonal Collection.

In early July the lead lawyer realized the summer case-load was greater than he had expected. The office was buzzing and bustling with the energy of a harvest.

Sometime after the Fourth of July the lead lawyer was driving through the North Side. He came to the stoplight at Chamberlayne and Azalea. At this intersection, over Memorial Day weekend, one black man had downed another black man with a .38 Special. The lead lawyer had read about it on some blog.

On this day, the lead lawyer noticed a group of young black men milling around the bus stop – hats crooked, shorts sagging. They seemed to have nowhere to go but up and down Chamberlayne, collecting time.

He pulled up to the bus stop, rolled down the window and said, “How would you like to make $5,000 by the end of August? You’ll learn how to work in my office. And afterwards, I’ll place you in a steady, well-paying job in another office. I have many offices in this city.”

The lead lawyer continued, “I guarantee you…you will not feel second-class in this job. I give you my word. It’s good work; the days are often long.”

“One last thing,” he said, “your work in my office begins today.”

Of the five black dropouts, two stepped into the car; one smirked, turning around and laughing; one stared, cold as ice; and one flipped-off the lead lawyer and started walking down Chamberlayne.

One day, in mid-August, the lead lawyer was planning an exclusive cookout for a collection of business and civic leaders as well as elected city officials. He wanted newly-harvested sweet Vidalia onions and late-harvest vine-ripened tomatoes for the gourmet burgers he would be grilling up, Bobby Flay-style, on his cedar wood deck.

From his downtown office he drove out to his preferred farmer’s produce stand near the Patterson-Libbie intersection in the Near West End. After collecting the onions and tomatoes, he saw 10-15 Mexican men sitting in the shadows. They were resting in the shade provided by the large back canopies of the boutique stores called Shops at 5807.

As the lead lawyer walked in the direction of the Mexican men, they quickly began to scamper away down the back lot, desperately trying to avoid being collected. Figuring they were undocumented, the lead lawyer yelled, “Alto.”

“In between the berry season and grape season, right?” the lead lawyer asked, chasing them down. “Any chance you'd be interested in working in an office for two weeks? It’s good work; the days are often long.”

One of the Mexican men, on behalf of the others, said in perfect English, “We know long days…but do you pay a fair wage?”

On August 31st, the lead lawyer brought the white Midlothian teenager, the two young black dropouts and the undocumented Mexicans into his plush office in the city, which overlooked the river and which featured an extraordinary collection of original Jackson Pollock works.

He opened a drawer in his desk and proceeded to pay his summer help.

First, he gave each Mexican man $5,000. The Mexicans were stunned, speechless; they all nodded, not knowing how to collect this sort of generosity. The office assistant showed them out, giving them each paid-for bus passes good for the rest of the year.

“Damn!” the young black man whispered to his friend. “We’ll be gettin’ more than that.”

But the lead lawyer gave both of them $5,000 as he had said when he picked them up at the corner of Chamberlayne and Azalea.

“What the…?” one of them shouted, motioning at the lead lawyer. “That’s not fair, man. And those are Mexicans.” They stormed out of the office with their money, brushing by the office assistant who was standing there with their bus passes good for the rest of the year.

Up stepped the white Midlothian teenager, grinning. And the lead lawyer handed him $5,000.

“Come on, dude” said the teenager. “I worked my butt off for you all summer in this office. How could you give me the same…? With all due respect, sir, that’s no way to run a firm. You’re messing with the wrong family.” The teenager turned around to walk out.

The lead lawyer gently grabbed the teenager’s arm and said, "Hey, tell your dad this: In my office, the last will be first and the first will be last."

This parable is the first in a series of 2010 adaptations.