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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. Stu in Iowa

    Quite the opposite Tony, Jesus would surely associated himself with occupiers. Remember the cleansing of the temple?

    December 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  2. bucky

    Jesus chased the traders from the temple.
    I love how far right Christians argue for literal translations of scripture, but are quick to interpret when it suits their needs.
    Jesus was just telling everybody a story about a boss who went on vacation. DON'T ARGUE WITH THE WORD OF GOD!!!

    December 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  3. Isabella Binney

    Jesus was a free-market guy? Isn't he the man who threw the money changers out of the church, fed hundreds, care for the poor. Jesus wasn't a free-market guy, he was a socialist, for pete's sake.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  4. keeth

    Thank you! I forgot that part about Jesus supporting the money changers in the temple.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  5. Collin

    I've always learned this as a parable for faith, but apparently you've now decided to return it back to a literal meaning. Bravo!

    /sarcasm

    December 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  6. BryonMorrigan

    Of course, the "Family Research Council" is a designated Hate Group and should not be treated with this kind of "respect" by CNN...any more than they should be having Neo-Nazis or Klanmembers writing op-eds. I guess that kinda debunks the myth of the "Liberal Media" though... Jeez.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  7. Vulpes

    Again we see the far right taking too literally the bible and simultaneously missing necessary points. To wit, the biblical passages describing the moral necessity of giving to the poor are clear. 2nd, the OWS people have been successful in highlighting issues which should be addressed ... they have not just "done nothing". In large part they continue to do things to progress the movement. Although some may want to "tear down capitalism/wall street , etc .." there are real and actionable issues that are being raised ... and hopefully addressed ... what have you done for social inequity as your God has commanded ... you are a joke ... not Christian,

    December 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  8. Mattens

    Tony, you are one, sad, sick puppy. If you call yourself "Christian," you are deluding yourself.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  9. Bill

    Your on the right track! I'm more inclined to focus on the coin in the fishes mouth as a better resolution to our economic situation.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  10. Anotherdayjustbelieve

    This is ridiculous.... Every side is claiming to have the "endorsement" of God....

    *sigh*

    December 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  11. Jason

    ummm.... they all had the same amount of money to start right? lets start over with everything equal. if we all agreed to that, i think the OWS movement would disband.

    that cool rev?

    if we all dont get the same number of mina's, i don't think Jesus would be cool.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  12. Calina

    The Government should take tax-free status away from ALL RELIGIONS......

    December 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  13. corwin bauer

    This reads like some kind of bizzarre right-wing self satire.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • garc

      Amen, pun intended. Jesus was the original liberal. His message was very inconvenient to the status quo. Whom did he hang out with? Whose rights did he fight for? And whose tables did he literally overturn? Why is it that people like me–against religious dogma–appear to be the only ones who have actually READ the Bible?

      December 6, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  14. Matt

    This is a ridiculous article written by a man with a warped mind. He is trying to twist religious dogma into an excuse for crony capitalism. The people are done with your neo-conservative lies and abuses of power. Hyper patriotism and bigotry have been seen before, and those people almost always end up being the bad guys.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • ProperVillain

      Amen brother, amen. America has for too long cast Jesus in it's image....

      December 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  15. John

    I love people who misinterpret the bible for their own gain. What a silly stupid man. Creepy looking too.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Ashley

      Who can argue with such a well-thought out argument like that? Just because you call someone stupid doesn't mean you have a clue what you're talking about.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  16. Jim

    "Render to Caesar that which is Caesar's" Your prize awaits in Heaven,, Just do your best and be happy

    December 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  17. ramicio

    We don't really have a free market system going on anyway...

    December 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  18. batteryinme

    Jesus was for and against everything from what I can tell. You can always find a tidbit of ideology in the NT that corresponds to any viewpoint. Therefore, a hack article. WHO CARES.....religion is bunk.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  19. larrydavidsandwhich

    Jesus would/would not have been an Occupier? How fvckin lame.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  20. Brad Cooper

    Tony Perkins is a hypocrite, at best! Who does he think he's fooling? This article is just another attempt by the right to obfuscate the facts, rather than live up to the realities of what the republican party has become. "Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves." (Mark – 11/15-17)

    December 6, 2011 at 3:30 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.