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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. David, CA

    Tony Perkins- putting horrific words in God's mouth for the GOP.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  2. Mike

    Is this serious? This is the most ignorant article I've ever read. I understand that CNN wants to get opinions from both sides, but this is flat out bull**** No one knows for a fact what Jesus meant to do in his life. Human beings will never be able to understand the divine. If anyone claims that they do, they are lying to themselves and spreading bs to others.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  3. Scutt Farkas

    Wow, this is a completely pointless, misguided article. The author has zero understanding of what the occupy movement is about. Not only that he seems to be putting words into Jesus' mouth. Jesus chose a free market system!??? What Bible are you reading? People interpret the bible to suit whatever political motivation they have. Sick.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  4. Caitlin

    Once again, a leader of a horribly bigoted organization preaching what nobody wants to hear...

    December 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  5. Professor Hubert J Farnsworth

    *Reads article, looks up*

    I don't want to live on this planet anymore.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  6. Patrick Williams

    How far has Christianity fallen? They have turned Jesus into a far-right, American-Republican WASP...OMG! How sad, very, very sad!

    December 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Scutt Farkas

      Thank you. It's sickening, but pretty much every political party in history has twisted and interpreted the Bible to suit their needs. It's a long and fine tradition and sheep fall for it everytime. "Jesus supports the free market system" Jesus indeed.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  7. John-Otto Liljenstolpe

    Yes, indeedy, put on your eye glasses whose prescription enables you to see everything through the filter of autonomous individualism and then cut out of the any reference in the New Testament to the Jubilee Year with its call to redistribute the wealth of society and lay at the center of Jesus' call to his society to repent, and you will come up with brother Perkins' understanding of the Christian Gospel.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  8. mnjoe

    That's about the grossest thing I've ever read, and I'm not religious. The worst part of it is I bet the author thought he was really clever in writing this. It's one step up from that yokel comparing Obama to Hitler. Just bending things to support some dumb argument that no one is having.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  9. Concerned Catholic

    The parable that this author used was taken completely out of context. Jesus was referring to spiritual gifts that God has given to each individual man and that he expects each person to use those gifts. The reason the king is mad at the servant who did not multiply his money is not related to economics. Jesus is simply using this parable as a way of expressing the disappointment and anger God will have with us if we squander the gifts that he gives to each man. Again this parable was taken completely out of context and has nothing to do with capitalism or the free market as this author claims.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  10. Mark B

    Really? The Family Research Council? CNN your kidding? This is some kind of joke right? A front page article even. Wow, talk about in the pockets of the 1%. Wow, ... I mean wow. Well least you aren't trying to hide it. Well, in response to this article I doubt that Jesus would have seen capitalism and consumerism as an afront to God. I'm not saying get rid of capitalism or consumerism ... just don't try to sell us that Jesus would buy into ... so to speak. Then again, I think Christianity throughout history as been a tool used to manipulate the masses for a variety of reasons ... greed and power being one of them. People are really fickle of history and generally shallow in this country ... I would think heads would be rolling otherwise. CNN ... shame on you.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • David, CA

      I know- I did a total double take. Then I tried not to vomit.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  11. Sugar Jones

    You got the idea right, but you have misapplied the principle. The third servant was penalized for doing nothing. He was left with nothing in the end. Those of us who choose to join the human race are required to do our best for ourselves and others. By all faiths, by all creeds, by all philosophies.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  12. Tim

    Religion is all about the money. Tax these holier than thou freaks.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  13. Human being

    Tell me I just hallucinated all this!!! So, how much did Wall Street pay this guy to say this?

    December 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  14. Coflyboy

    Jeezus– go find something to do, Mr. Perkins. You bible thumpers are all the same: Jesus this, and Jesus that... Do you think that Jesus would agree what the GOP is doing? or what the Iranians are doing? or what YOU are doing? Maybe Jesus has nothing to do with OWS, or maybe Jesus couldn't give a damn. Perhaps Jesus might AGREE with OWS?
    The saddest part: Some Jesus freak paid Mr. Perkins to publish this article.

    Unless you have directly interviewed Jesus, you have no idea what Jesus actually thinks; everything you wrote is pure speculation on YOUR end, with YOUR views, and with YOUR interests in the forefront.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  15. David, CA

    I guess Jesus should have put his crucifiction on credit and schmoozed with the wealthy elitists as they crushed the poor.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  16. Binky42

    Just goes to show that Christianity can mean anything you want it to.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  17. Voltairine

    I'd like to thank Tony Perkins for associating himself and his theology with those opposed to Occupy Wall Street.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  18. Transcendent moral principles?

    I am honestly trying to remember where Jesus endorses a "free market system" or even if such an economy was in place during his life? Is it possible that Jesus was using the parable as a metaphor for faith and patience in awaiting his return? I'm trying to reconcile this point of view with this passage from Luke 12:15. "Then to the people he said, 'Beware! Be on your guard against greed of every kind, for even when someone has more than enough, his possessions do not give him life.' It seems to me that the Occupy America is protesting against this type of greed.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Coflyboy

      Thank You.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  19. SCAtheist

    If a book contradicts itself on every page, then you can interpret it to say anything.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  20. Lucky

    What absolute crap. I can't believe he calls himself a Christian. Compassion? Nah. Calling out bad behavior on Wall Street? Oh, no. Feeding the hungry, attending to the sick, helping the poor and needy...uh...yeah, Jesus didn't really advocate that stuff, did he? Nah....Look, right here he says the rich should get richer and the poor can give what little they have to the already rich...see, it's right here in the bible?

    Sheeeesh, unbelievable. Tony Perkins should be writhing in shame...

    December 6, 2011 at 3:53 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.