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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. Martin

    I honestly don't care what the leader of a notoriously anti-gay hate group thinks his imaginary friend would feel about the Occupy movement. The fact is that this is a movement whose time is long overdue. Financial fraud and malfeasance has gone on too long, the criminals protected by their own money-influenced untouchability and friendly, corrupt politicians. It's time to make America be, once again, what it was meant to be in the first place: all about We The People, not Only The Plutocrats.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  2. Nathan Prophet

    Perkins is totally wrong on his personal interpretation of what Jesus thought about the coming Kingdom of God. During Jesus' lifetime, it is well-understood and accepted by true Biblical scholars that Jesus, along with John the Baptizer (before he was murdered) felt that it was their mission to prepare for the immediate and physical coming of the Kingdom of God. When that didn't happen, New Testament writers changed the story as was done in numerous instances.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • MarylandBill

      True Biblical scholars being those you agree with? The basic problem is that they start with their conclusion and then immediately throw out any interpretation of the evidence that disagrees with their conclusion. This is kind of like how the Gospels are dated based on the prophesies they contain. If a prophesy actually happened (most obviously the destruction of Jerusalem), then the gospel must have been written after that event... automatically assuming that the prophesy was never actually made in the life time of Jesus.

      Is it true that the Apostles, Paul and perhaps even John the Baptist probably believed that the physical Kingdom of God would be restored in the very near term (i.e., in the lifetimes of those they were preaching to, if not their own physical lives). What Jesus actually believed is somewhat up for debate.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  3. Jonny Doe

    To call yourself a Christian and seriously believe that the parable has anything to do with capitalism is just plain ignorant (but not surprising considering you are aligned with the Family Research Council). the "capital" in which Jesus referred too is clearly the word of God. he was saying are you going to keep it for yourself our are you going to spread it and "profit" in more believers. Even I know that is what Jesus meant and I don't pretend to be a Christian.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  4. San from Knoxville, TN

    Glad this guy has an inside track to Jesus. I hope in the future he keeps his interpretation of how Jesus would feel to himelf. I personally think that Jesus would be sympathic with the poor of our country, but you'll notice my opinion is not making headlines at CNN.com.
    Wonder how much Perkins is worth. Betcha he's made a killing with his "Family Research Council". Just saying.....he ain't poor. If he were maybe he'd be more sympathic with the 99%.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    Jesus protested the moneychangers in the temple. But he didn't just hold a sign. He actually got violent and destructive. So Jesus was actually way more radical than the Occupiers.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • San from Knoxville, TN

      Right on!!

      December 6, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  6. lewdog3

    No rich man shall enter the Kingdom........

    December 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  7. William Demuth

    Of course Jesus is fictional.

    Christians are gullible to believe otherwise.

    If I hand you a comic book and tell you to worship the Incredible Hulk as God, the majority of humans would reject the concept, just as the majority of humans reject the fable that is Christ.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • MarylandBill

      The only thing more stupid than a Christian (or other person) applying modern economic systems to a two thousand year old text, is an atheist who does not merely dispute his divinity (which is reasonably justified given their starting point) but his existence as an historical person.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  8. Edwin

    I find it interesting and puzzling that Tony Perkins would assert a "free market system" reading of the ten minas parable as the definitive interpretation.

    William R. Herzog, II gives a liberation theology reading of the same parable that interprets it as a condemnation of the king as an exploitive capitalist, who does no work, but punishes those who don’t make a profit for him. (Herzog, Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as pedagogue of the oppressed, 1994)

    Joachim Jeremias, a theologian, asserts that the parable had a different meaning to the early Christians. He argues that the parable was calling the scribes to task for squandering what was entrusted to them, the Word of God. (Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, 1954)

    Given that the writer of the parable does not specify who or what the king, servants or minas represent, it seems open to the interpreter to assign roles and draw lessons from this story. Nowhere in parable does the author write that Jesus said who characters represent. Interpreters draw the lesson that suits their world view, emphasizes their needs and champions their strategies.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  9. johnborg

    Karl Marx and Max Weber: Religion legitimates one's great wealth.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  10. DCG

    Honestly, what were you thinking publishing an op-ed by Tony Perkins. Does anyone remember this:

    "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."

    A) Your editorial team should be ashamed of themselves
    B) You should remove this post immediately, and agree, as a reputable news organization, to not publish future op-eds by leaders of organizations classified as 'hate groups', on topics that are, by the way, completely outside of their purview anyway
    C) Your editorial team should then be ashamed of themselves once more
    D) (As a disclaimer, I have zero love for Occupy Wall Street and think they're totally aimless and disorganized)

    December 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  11. nylescota

    why is jesus even relevant to any of this. oooooh jesus would have opposed. who cares

    December 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  12. ObamaJoe

    But who knows,,,maybe what Tony means is Jesus is a Occupier,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,then it can be on CNN and he can occupy some money ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    December 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  13. adam

    How about Jesus was not corrupt or greedy. You have to listen to the confession made by former Chase executives that they were pushing to put more minorities in homes knowing that they cannot afford payment, but Chase wanted to meet its mortgage goals so that their executives can make their nice bonuses. It is all over the news today.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  14. Holy

    Remember what Jesus did to the money changers in the Temple?

    December 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • lance

      different context completely.

      Nice try though

      December 6, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Greytheist

      Sure, ignore everything Jesus actually said on the matter, like the camel and the needle, and caring for the poorest among us; ignore that he fed and healed the poor for free, and threw the rich bankers out of the churches – IGNORE HIS ACTIONS TOO! What he really meant can only be interpreted in context, and that context is a bunch of unimaginably rich and corrupt people want to be able to fleece us at will without complaints, and feel blessed and holy while doing so.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  15. asdf

    Funny I didn't think God was a country club executive type.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  16. Nomboria

    OWS exists to show the people are NOT content with the status quo. The point is that is the people who are elected and paid well to provide the answers aren't interested in fixing the nation but will continue to kowtow to big money, they can expect growing numbers of people to clog the streets, and OWS accomplished this goal. No demands, no quick-fixes, just growing hordes of angry citizens camping out in front of the big money. That is all that should be expected of them, and they have already accomplished more then all of us internet complainers can dream. Look at this free-marketeer in this article on the defense for example! 6 months ago we were being told the rich should more or less be venerated like pharohs as the sorce of all economic life in our blighted land. Now he's scrambling to justify his greed through obscure religious parables, and convincing no one. Thank you OWS!

    December 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  17. Mario

    Wow! I've been a CNN watcher for years since they tend to be a bit more balanced when it comes to news but this is pretty low! The Family Research Council is designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Goodbye CNN, I won't be watching your channel or reading your site for giving these kinds of people a voice.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  18. John Tighe

    Yes, Jesus was a big fan of money lenders.
    Perkins is filth that will say whatever lie will get him the power or money he seeks.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  19. You Hypocrites

    Occupy this!!!

    “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:23-24

    December 6, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  20. Jason

    Wow, what a great article. One of the best I have seen on CNN in a very long time. As I write this, this is the only positive feedback on the article. That the truth is cursed at is a very sad sign of how far our society has declined.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • ObamaJoe

      Not good for this world,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      December 6, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Greytheist

      Yeah, stupid people and their stupid traditional morality of helping the poor and sick and SHARING! As if Jesus was some kind of communist. We all know he founded a successful corporation that went on to sell poor people unimaginably oppulent lives in a mythical place that can only be reached after their customers die! Is there anything more cynically capitalist then modern Christianity? Our society USED to be all about ripping off the little guy for your own benefit, and then sending him to prison, or beating him severely or blowing him up via drone if he complained, now we have all these LIBERALS complainging about fair treatment and equal protection under the law; a successful, "hard" working businessman can hardly use his stolen fortune to buy politicians openly in this environment!

      December 6, 2011 at 3:54 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.