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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. jeff

    Whether actual monetary gain or not, the parable clearly states that we are to take our 'talents', be productive with them, and create a benefit. I agree with Mr Perkins. I also see a metaphor in the parable: "Talent" (though a monetary item in those days) can also be what we are blessed with (ie health, intelligence, free choice, freedom). The point of the parable is to work hard with what you have been given, produce a return, and bless others. This honors God. And we must all give an accounting in the end, and we will be rewarded or punished based on how we conducted our lives.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Michael

      Hmm so Perkins perhaps someday will have a lonnnnggg conversation with God about how he twisted the teachings and motivations of Jesus to support his own prejudices and hatreds. Id love to be a fly on THAT wall...

      December 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • James W.

      yes our corporate overllords have produced a "return" all right. And they have blessed us with polluted air, water, and a class war against the poor. This Perkins guy is a friggin nut case.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Jon O

      Your argument seems to fall apart at "bless others."

      The "Occupy" movement, for the overwhelmingly vast majority of those involved, isn't about distribution of wealth – it's about getting back to a more level playing field.

      And the whole comparison of the article is bunk anyhow. Show me ten people who have been given equal "minas" and I'll show you a fictional book filled with moralistic stories that even its most devout followers fail to live up to.

      I doubt Jesus would have supported the fleecing of the "talents" of so many regular Americans so that a small percentage of folks could have the majority of "talents," earned off the backs of the regular people, and then use their power to continue to shape the environment to their liking so that the flow of "talents" can continue in only their direction.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Drobatin

      I agree that work ethic is an important aspect of one's complete make up. But so is standing up for what you believe. Christ, Jesus died on the cross for what he believed in!

      December 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  2. Nico

    This can't be real. It's just too ostentatious to be serious. "Jesus was a free-marketer"? SERIOUSLY?!? This is why it's so hard for me to take some Christians seriously. They think that Jesus' words can be twisted to whatever their needs at the moment are. It's distinctly and horribly anti-Christian and people who do it should be embarrassed.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  3. asdf

    Race baiting has grown stale so now CNN is faith baiting I guess.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  4. Hwy 9

    So, James Dobson's group doesn't like OWS. What a shocker – a right wing fringe group not liking OWS. Why even bother with this – it's not news.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  5. XO

    I think Christ would have spoke more to the greed of this generation. You guys are worse than broke, you are in debt. No one forced you guys to fill out credit card apps and take the american dream out on credit. Most of the work day, I find people surfing FB, YT and Tweeting while their jobs go out of the country.Try being socially responsible and working for a change.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  6. CDaeda

    If Jesus was an occupier, he would be tossed in jail in an instant.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  7. Stephanie

    Definition of Religion: A tool to control the masses.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  8. PETERS

    SCREW THE POOR! It's probably bad choices that made them poor.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Emanuel Burgos

      Not all the poor have made bad choices, but some have. Case in point, if they slacked off while in high school and did not get a good education to get into college, they have no one to blame but themselves. If they got addicted to drugs or alcohol and they are living in the streets, they got no one to blame but themselves. And if they had lots of children out of wedlock and are now struggling, they have no one to blame but themselves. In this blessed country, hard work, a good education, and responsibility can get you ahead in life while the opposite won't get you very far.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  9. Bob

    Hi Tony, I invite you to read the New Testament sometime. It's obvious you have absolutely no clue about Christ and his message.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • JCMars

      Yes, Bob. You're right! The New Testament is all about smoking dope and relieving yourself in public parks. You need to take a break from "World of Warcraft" and perhaps read the Bible sometime.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • fred

      Bob
      What is your take on Luke 19? Get it right and I will send you a get out of hell free card. Besides God will not send you hell if you get it wrong because God loved you first.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • J.W

      Personally I do not think that the parable in Luke 19 is about economics, anymore than the parable about the sower is about gardening. They are both analogies about faith.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • fred

      J.W
      I am with you on that. It is a lesson on faithfully using the gifts and opportunities God gives you. I have heard this used in many applications. It is directed towards what you did from a Kingdom perspective. It is not much of a stretch however, to say my gifts are in finance so I use my money and knowledge to fund feeding programs for the poor and missionaries that help the needy.

      December 6, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  10. Mattyj

    "Yes, we are to 'occupy,' not by railing against a free market system that rewards diligence, even though it is occasionally abused..." What a bunch of hogwash. Lies make baby Jesus cry...

    December 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  11. Jule

    Occupiers are not protesting free markets; that is a misconception promoted by the status quo. They are protesting the greed and fraud exhibited by Wall Street derivatives trading and the "too big to fail" banks. In reading the Gospels, it's pretty clear that Jesus did not back greed or those who are quick to judge others.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  12. Mission of Jesus was Kingdom of God

    Not the markets.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  13. BLH

    Over time many have shown you can "prove", when taken out of context, that scripture supports most anything. Taking things out of context is so easy, and refuting it is so difficult, that it is a pretty decent strategy. In the spirit of taking things out of context, Mr. Perkins, I will suggest you take these words of scripture just as seriously as you expect us to take your thinly garbed neo-liberal religiosity, "Judas went out and hung himself." "Go and do likewise."

    December 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  14. Fred

    Tony Perkins is an irksome sloth. For him the Bible is an excuse–nay, an obligation–to be a hate mongering bigot and to tell the world that what Jesus really liked was capitalism. I hate to tell the anus this, but Jesus sets the model for socialism. Perkins falsifies the results of scientific studies, bending them to support his own bigotries and shocking the people who conducted the studies with his own interpretations, which he declined to defend in court because he knew his propaganda was indefensible. So his views on God and what Jesus would do? Who cares. He doesn't.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • AJ

      Huh???

      December 6, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Richard

      When I was a child, I learned about how Jesus healed the sick, and fed the hungry, and clothed the poor, and about how He said we should share. But when I grew up, I heard about all the ugly, selfish ideas that are ascribed to Him by people who would twist his words. What a shame. If he were around today, he'd be called a "libtard". I believe in the Jesus I read about in the New Testament, and He is nothing like His portrayal by the religious right.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • fred

      Jesus knew the worlds’ form of governing was always corrupt. Socialism, capitalism or communism leaves nothing but a bunch of ism all over your shoes. It was the chosen people that demanded a form of government other than the one God set out for them. Manmade governments always go bad and are replaced by another that also goes bad. Jesus was not then nor is Jesus now a socialist. Jesus is but a political tool used by our two party system

      December 6, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  15. Jennifer

    Tony Perkins another loser that couldn't get a REAL job, so instead he runs a lobbying group that wants to shove their twisted christian beliefs down the throats of everyone else in the country.... I PRAY HE GETS EBOLA from pitbull with AIDS.....

    December 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  16. Ohio Paul

    The FRC is a hate group...

    PS: The Occupy Movement isn't about Socialism, it is about regular people who can't get a job, can't get affordable health insurance and people who are fed up with the ultra rich taking, taking and taking more, while the disparity between the rich and poor is the highest since the Great Depression. The world ecoomy is teetering and these people want less Government so there is less oversight, so the rich can take even more. The middle class has no more to give. That's what it is about.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • James - St Petersburg FL

      Totally agreed!

      December 6, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  17. itwouldbemorebelievable

    The Family Research Council was classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2010. Way to go, CNN.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Teamosil

      Click on contact us at the bottom of the page and send them your thoughts on that. IMO it is completely unacceptable. Definitely, they have a legitimate goal of showing both sides of the story, but FRC isn't just one side of the story, they're an outright hate group, and that's over the line.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  18. Harry Wortz

    Parables are like statistics. One can postulate the meaning one desires from them.

    Didn't Jesus turn over the tables of the money changers and run them out of the temple? What's more OWSish than that?

    December 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  19. BKB

    This guy has no idea what he is talking about......Seriously......Wacko conservative view of the teaching of Christ.....

    December 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Ohio Paul

      "conservative view of the teaching of Christ....."

      Is there any other view?

      December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  20. Nate

    He's using the King James Version of the Bible. Not to insult everyone who reads that version, but it was first published 16 centuries after Jesus was alive. The Holy Bible was edited numerous times by the Church of England and went through a large editing process around 300 A.D. if I recall correctly. Mr. Perkins also uses the the Greek Translation for "occupy" when it is could just have easily been spoken in Aramaic or Hebrew. It's currently believed that the Language most commonly spoken during the time and in the area of which Jesus presided in was Aramaic. A common fact if you know anything about the history of Jesus, that is simply overlooked by Perkins.

    Anyone can bend the bible to say what they want. Especially when they weren't sitting there listening to Jesus of Nazareth as he preached. Just like Perkins, I cannot say exactly what Jesus would have supported. Unlike Perkins I will not speculate on matters beyond me.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:35 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.