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My Take: Jesus was a free marketer, not an Occupier
A protester camps out at St. Paul's Cathedral last month in London. Tony Perkins says Jesus had a different view of "occupy."
December 6th, 2011
12:10 PM ET

My Take: Jesus was a free marketer, not an Occupier

Editor's note: Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council in Washington.

By Tony Perkins, Special to CNN

(CNN) One of the last instructions Jesus gave his disciples was "Occupy till I come."

As Jesus was about to enter Jerusalem for the last time, just before his crucifixion, he was keenly aware that his disciples greatly desired and even anticipated that the kingdom of God was going to be established immediately on the earth.

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As a way to break the news that it wasn't going to happen in the manner and with the timing they expected, Jesus pulled them aside and gave them instructions by way of a parable.

The primary purpose of the parable, which appears in the Gospel of Luke, was to make clear to his disciples that the kingdom of God would not be physically established on the earth for some time and that, until then, they were being entrusted with certain responsibilities.

Jesus, depicted as a ruler in the story, would have to leave for a while as he traveled to a faraway place to receive authority to reign over the kingdom. In his absence, the disciples depicted as servants were to "occupy" until he returned.

Here's the direct quote from Luke: "He called his ten servants, and gave to them ten minas, one mina each (a mina today would be worth around $225), and he then told them to 'Occupy till I come.' " (Luke 19:13, King James Version)

But just what does Jesus' order to occupy mean? Does it mean take over and trash public property, as the Occupy movement has? Does it mean engage in antisocial behavior while denouncing a political and economic system that grants one the right and luxury to choose to be unproductive?

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No, the Greek term behind the old English translation literally means "be occupied with business." As with all parables, Jesus uses a common activity such as fishing or farming to provide a word picture with a deeper spiritual meaning.

From a spiritual perspective, the mina in this parable represents the opportunity of life; each of us is given the same opportunity to build our lives, and each of us shares the same responsibility to invest our lives for the purpose of bringing a return and leaving a legacy. Jesus gave equal responsibility and opportunity to each of his 10 servants.

The fact that Jesus chose the free market system as the basis for this parable should not be overlooked. When the nobleman returns, after being established as king a stand-in for Jesus he calls all his servants together to see what they had accomplished in his absence.

The first servant reports a nice profit: 10 minas. While the story lacks specifics on whether he invested the money in a herd of sheep or a hedge fund, we do know that he made his gain by engaging in business transactions of some sort. He used a free market system to bring a tenfold return on investment. No doubt such a return took a lot of diligent, dedicated effort.

The newly established king praises the servant and gives him a reward that's an even greater return on his efforts, "because you have been faithful in very little I will give you authority over ten cities."

Likewise the second servant in the story, who had turned his one mina into five, is praised and rewarded with greater responsibilities: He is given five cities.

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The third servant in the story had apparently either slept through his economics course or was just indifferent to the work delegated to him.

He had essentially kept the capital entrusted to him under his mattress for safekeeping.

When called to give an account of what he had accomplished, the man immediately attempts to shift the focus off his failure with excuses of how unfair the boss was because he was always trying to get more than he deserved for his money.

The employee review is immediate and intense: "Out of your own mouth will I judge you, you wicked servant." The king's disappointment and frustration are nearly palpable. "Why didn't you at least put the money in the bank and draw interest?" the king inquires.

While such language might prompt an HR complaint today, its meaning was quite clear to the disciples. There are no excuses for doing nothing.

Parables generally have a twist near the end, a final jolt to drive the point home. This one is no exception. The ruler orders that the capital, or opportunity, given to the lazy servant be taken from him and given to the most productive servant. "To everyone who has, more shall be given," the Bible reads, "but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away."

Jesus rejected collectivism and the mentality that has occupied America for the last few decades: that everyone gets a trophy equal outcomes for inequitable performance. There are winners and yes, there are losers. And wins and losses are determined by the diligence and determination of the individual.

Some would argue that such an approach encourages abuses, the likes of which we have seen on Wall Street. While some egregious abuses have taken place, they are not inevitable or intrinsic to free enterprise.

The parable of the king and the servants endorses the principles of business and the free market when properly employed.

Remember, these servants were not working for themselves, but under the constraints of their lord and for his benefit. Likewise our free market system works when bridled by morality. Not arbitrary morality that changes with political parties, but transcendent moral principles.

Yes, we are to "occupy," not by railing against a free market system that rewards diligence, even though it is occasionally abused. Rather we are to occupy by  using that system ethically as a means to advance the interests of the one we serve.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tony Perkins.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Economy • Jesus • Opinion

soundoff (3,372 Responses)
  1. popcorn

    I remember read the bible.

    judas ask Jesus if he could counterfeit the money. Jesus said "no" to judas because four horsemen would kill many christians and the jews.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • george

      But there were no Christians when Jesus was among the living.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  2. J. Russell

    As someone that was raised in an conservative, evangelical Baptist tradition and who read the New Testament more than 5 times completely through, I am appalled at the distortions that political conservatives make in what is actually in the Bible and what Jesus said, according to a literal reading of the Gospels. They are either intellectually-challenged or intellectually-dishonest even within their context. When someone has grown up,and realized the true grandeur of the 3.9 billion year history of of the universe its seems even sillier to attempt to put Bronze Age ideas of Jehovah and the mere few thousand years that modern humans were even around was part of a grand plan by a all-powerful being. Or as some have put it...Christianity: The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree... yeah, makes perfect sense.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • J. Russell

      er.slight correction.made when writing too fast...I conflated two numbers, rather it should be "...grandeur of 3.9 billion years of life on earth and 14 billion years of the Universe since the Big Bang...

      December 6, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Almost

      I almost took your comment seriously until you went on your "derp-religion is stupid-derp" tirade. I may even agree with you, but railing on people's deeply held beliefs (no matter how stupid anyone may think they are) makes you look not "grown up" but "stuck up" and I'm surprised you can see the "grandeur of the universe" with that gigantically over-inflated and self-important ego.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  3. Leaf on the Wind

    ". . . each of us is given the same opportunity to build our lives . . ." Really, Mr. Perkins? The same opportunity? ". . . wins and losses are determined by the diligence and determination of the individual." Right. No one ever has a run of bad luck or bad timing, right? This sounds alot like Herman Cain when he said that if you didn't have a job, it was your own fault. Well, I have a job right now, but it's more luck than skill, more timing than personal determination. I've been unemployed and know what that's like. Perhaps you, Mr. Perkins, have never had that problem? Aren't you lucky?

    "Remember, these servants were not working for themselves, but under the constraints of their lord and for his benefit." And if we continue on our current economic course, we'll soon spin from capitalism into feudalism, which is what that statement sounds like to me. Corporate America and the 1% as the new nobles and the rest of us 99% as the serfs.

    Let's consider the source of this article. From wikipedia:

    "While working as campaign manager for Louisiana state legislator Woody Jenkins in 1996, Tony Perkins paid former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,000 for his mailing list, and then tried to hide involvement with Duke, sending payment to Duke through a third party. The campaign was fined $3,000 for trying to hide the payment."

    December 6, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Common Sense Chuck

      Let me see now.

      I was:

      1. raised on welfare by a immigrated divorced mom with for boys
      2. graduated from college because my mom told me that she wants us boys to be productive peopole in society and to get off of welfare
      3. worked hard to become a professional engineer and have a nice life...because I earned it!
      4. now I have to support the lazy (different from the poor)!

      December 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      Chuck, I was wondering how you managed to graduate high school, much less college, with such poor grammar and spelling, then I read the part about you being an engineer. That explains it. :-)

      Good for you, working hard and achieving what you have achieved. I raised a son by myself, as your mother did, and he works now, but he has been unemployed recently through absolutely no fault of his own, and is about as far from lazy as a man can be. Do you begrudge him the unemployment checks he received during that time? How do you decide who is lazy and who is just unlucky in this down economy? We can't all be engineers.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  4. Gannt

    If this is solely the opinion of Tony Perkins, what the hell is it doing pasted on the front page of CNN.com?!

    December 6, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      It's in the Belief Blog and it is listed as an Opinion. CNN, as well as most online and print media, have always published opinion pieces.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  5. george

    So now Tony Perkins speaks for Jesus. Beware of false prophets.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  6. Really

    "Give what you have to the poor, and follow me". Doesn't sound anything like what the author has proposed here. Is he serious?

    December 6, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Common Sense Chuck

      The poor are totally different then the lazy!

      December 6, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      Common Sense Chuck, according to Perkins and many others of the same ultra-conservative leanings, the poor ARE the lazy.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  7. Jeb

    Now we've heard it all from these lunatics. Jeebus was like a banker or a hedge fund manager. He would have no doubt sucked the economy dry like the greedy wall street fat cats and parachuted away in his golden parachute.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  8. Terry Moore

    Tony Perkins...Another member of a right wing establishment trying to justify inequality and greed through the Bible... Jesus was a free-marketer.... Well, since free market economy only started to occur in the 18th-19th century, I guess that Jesus was around a lot later than we thought. And of course, the money changers and usurers (sounds like banks and credit card companies to me...) that dwelled around the Temple were his good pals, were they not ?
    And the multiplication of bread and fish was done because people has so much money to buy food at roadside cafes while going to listen to his sermons...
    Right wing people have no sense of shame... That is the one thing that makes them go to war with no reasons, pollute the economy with financial idiocies, decide that illegal immigrants are a menace, impose their rule on the rest of the world through force, economic or otherwise.
    The USA are a hegemony.. But not a moral one.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  9. Uncouth Swain

    One should never try and apply 20th/21st century political concepts to anyone that lived 2,000 years ago. It's silly.

    Jesus could be described as liberal for his positions on women's rights and helping out those in need. Pro-Monarchy (or pro-Theocracy) for his stand on the king and God. A conservative on his views of working.

    Basically put...it's not wise to try and put any historical figure into a modern day label.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  10. Patrick Williams

    There was SOOOOOO much wrong with this it is not even funny. Most egregious is his assumption that ancient Palestine was like modern day America – it was not. Back then, there were mostly poor or extremely poor and a few, elite wealthy – a very, very, very tiny few were in the middle.

    Jesus, Himself, was dirt poor...He was actually homeless by his own account. Based on this guys interpretation, Donald Trump is a saint and Jesus was a poor piece of rabble who was not good enough to participate in the "free-market" system!

    Bad article and terrible interpretation!

    December 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  11. kiki

    He seems to think the two main beliefs put forward by Jesus were, "business as usual" and "every man for himself". dominionist love to twist the gospel.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  12. Rob

    Ok – but what would a REAL Christian think?

    December 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  13. Charles Burke

    Tony Perkins is damned. God told me so. It was not Jesus who praised the rich–it was John Calvin.

    calvin was wrong then, and Perkins is wrong now. How are the moneychangers in the temple to be considered? Hedge fund operators? Perkins seems more like scribes and pharisees. And whited sepulchers. cb

    December 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  14. Mathew 28:18-20

    If all the authority both in heaven and here on the earth were handed to you right now... what would be the first thing you would do? Most would stop poverty or disease or some other horrible thing going on right now. That is understandable. However examine what Jesus said at Math 28:18,19
    "And Jesus approached and spoke to them saying: "All authority has been given me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations..."
    The most important work he commanded his disciples to be "occupied with" was the preaching work. The same work he had instructed his disciples how to do when he sent them door to door by twos into all the various cities.
    The churches of Christendom would have you believe that the making of literal money is the work True Christians are supposed to be "occupied" with, however displaying the Christ-like personality and teaching other to do the same is exactly what Jesus has commanded of all True Christians. The churches of Christendom have fallen far short and in fact are likened to that one slave who did nothing with what he was given and ended up losing everything.
    So who today is going door to door in the entire earth by twos teaching about the good news of Gods Kingdom government and instructing others about the Christ-like personality?
    When you search these ones out and find them, you will be among Christ's true followers and separate from the false teachings of Christendom.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  15. BradleyMartinBall

    Oh good Lord, CNN. Why not amplify the opinions of someone who has a deep understanding of Christianity, not someone who uses it to support oppression as far as the eye can see? Chris Hedges is a good start: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/where_were_you_when_they_crucified_my_movement_20111205/. It is truly disappointing that a person like Tony Perkins, whose "research" has been discredited both for its scientific invalidity and its embrace of bigotry, is given such a prominent voice in national politics, but Hedges is relegated to the audience of the few who are lucky enough to be aware of him. Shame, CNN.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  16. joe

    who the hell is tony perkins, think from the other end and you will realize he aint part of the 1% either

    December 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  17. Mitch

    If you think Occupy is against free markets, then you are deluded. What they are against is the unfair distribution of wealth in modern times. The middle class is dying, meanwhile the richest of the rich make 400% more money than they did 30 years ago, and pay a lower rate of taxes than they have since before the Great Depression.

    Where is the "Trickle Down" effect that some "conservatives" proclaim will save us all? Why is it that, for more than a decade, the GOP has said, "Tax Cuts pay for themselves" ... yet now that the discussion is the payroll tax that affects the working class our GOP congressional representatives INSIST they must be paid for by cutting government services? Why do Republicans complain about giving away tax dollars, yet do not mind giving BILLIONS to corporations like Exxon that already making record-breaking profits?

    Jesus did preach joy in work, sure. But right now work doesn't do it. Right now we tax labor at a much higher rate than capital gains. How is that fair to anyone? You like to accuse the unemployed of being lazy, but there are not enough jobs to fill. Last time I checked there was one job opening for every five unemployed people. Then you take the stats from a month or two ago where in one week the private sector hired 100,000 people, but the government laid off 30,000. How is that going to help.

    I was once a self-described conservative. But right now the GOP has made it painfully clear that they support ONLY the interests of corporate industry. Now we have billionaires like Warren Buffett, and venture capitalists like Nick Hanauer begging for Congress to do raise their taxes and do something to support the middle class, yet all one party wants to do is give more to those who have the most, and tell the needy to eat dirt.

    Jesus certainly doesn't support that. And neither should the American people.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  18. it is sad

    Mr Perkins once again makes the scriptures fit his needs and his belief. Please Mr Perkins, explain to your followers why Jesus sent his disciples out without any money, asking them to depend on the love and generosity of the people? Explain it away... I know, he was just tired and really didn't mean it. I know for a fact that Jesus was with hordes of people, who were probably trashing up the land... he ended up supporting them by producing more food and drink for them all, so they could stay. Yeah, I know, that doesn't fit your little arguement because it might mean your church should really be helping out more... instead it spends moneys in political campaigns while hiding behind tax exempt status. You are not just a Judas, you are the wolf in sheep clothing.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  19. Paul Giachetti

    Proof positive that, with enough imagination, you can get the Bible to say just about anything you need it to.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  20. Epimetheus

    Ah, Tony Perkins. And yet another greedy right-wing sleaze-bag Christian is heard from. What really get me is that this sob wouldn't know Christ if he bit him in the ass. Jesus endorsed the free market economy? Tony, don't use Christ's words, or anyone's words for that matter, unless you know what they mean. Better yet, just shut the hell up.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • it is sad

      These american christians hate the fact that Jesus was more into socialism... he would be thrown out of any republican rally for not understanding biblical teachings. Jesus never instructed churches to pass the plate... he instructed them to help those in need. The plate just made it easier for church officals to get rich.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.