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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. johnathan

    I do believe the bible says in several places that if you want to enter into the kingdom of heaven you must first get rid of your material wealth, Yes? No?

    December 6, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      Yes, it does.

      Matthew 19:21 and Matthew 19:24 plus others.

      December 8, 2011 at 4:20 am |
  2. ItSOnLyME

    Oh PLEASE!! When will people get OVER speaking for someone who's been dead for over 2000 years? You don't know any more than my dog knows what Jesus would have said, thought, or done. Get over yourself.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  3. Ken

    For me, the most provacative, and the most debatable, assertion by Mr. Perkins is that from this parable one can conclude that Jesus was a free market capitalist (an intersting notion, since this construct did not exist at the time). The problem is (among many) that Jesus did not speak in Greek. Jesus spoke in Aramaic. So this entire (literal) textual argument turns on a correct understanding of an Old English translation of a Greek translation forty years after the fact of something said in Aramaic.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  4. Darryn Cooke

    Yup, Jesus would have cleaned up in 2003-2007 trading those worthless derivatives.

    Jesus loves capitalism. It's in the book. He also hates rabbits.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • ItSOnLyME

      Remember: He said "Blessed are the cheese makers" 🙂

      December 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • mark

      Well not cheese makers specifically, but any manufacturer of dairy products.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  5. Joe Schmoe

    I can't believe CNN actually printed this tripe.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • ItSOnLyME

      Slow news day, clearly.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Allya

      I agree. Wow, just, wow.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  6. JohnRJ08

    This article is disgusting, written by a right-wing religious ideologue who thinks exactly the opposite of what Jesus Christ would think.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  7. Scutt Farkas

    Jesus supports the free market system. I must have missed that part of the bible. Way to fill in the gaps in whatever way fits your politics.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  8. Seth Pascal

    Editor's note: Tony Perkins would like to inflame others from his high horse in Washington.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  9. banjo

    now THAT is what i call "taking the lord's name in vain." think about it!!!!

    December 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  10. PETERS

    The way I figure it Jesus (and all othe religious con men) was a lousy carpenter and could not make a living. So one day he decided to become a prophet, so he could con people out of a square meal. Most people will BELIEVE anything, especially if you tell them what they want to hear. Examples: If you believe you will never die (how would you know if your dead), the meek will inherit the earth (yeah, about 108 cubic feet of it), Blessed are the poor (I've been poor, I did not feel blessed, just inspired to become NOT poor). To the poor I leave this little homily, Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes, and you can take or leave it if you choose (MASH).

    December 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  11. Kay

    This is a wonderful example of cognitive disonance at work. Perkins can't reconcile two important beliefs he has: A) the teachings and life of Jesus and B) his naive, idealist view of our corrupted economic system. So what does he do? Well he can either re-examine the reality of inequality in America, our financial system, and his overall economic belief system or he can twist his perception of Jesus to fit this worldview. Obviously Perkins chose the latter.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Scutt Farkas

      Well put.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  12. Michael

    Absurd and erroneous. In the Bible, Jesus spends his brief ministry encouraging believers to abandon their interest in material wealth. At no point, whether by action or by lesson, does he express even a passing interest in economics, finances, the marketplace (aside from the marketplace he trashed, of course), or capitalism. The closest Jesus comes to waxing fiscal, of course, is the parable the author discusses, which is by *any* interpretation, traditional or contemporary, a lesson about expanding the "kingdom" of God. Sure, to be fair, Jesus is also touting the value of hard work and personal responsibility in doing so, but to suggest the penniless preacher/carpenter – so often dismissive of the wealthy, and consistently uninterested in money – was *actually* praising free market economics is, well... frankly... stupid.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Loren

      It is not about whether you are poor...it is WHY you are poor. If God gave you the ability to work and support yourself, it is a waste of His gifts to you if you expect everyone else to work for you.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Michael

      Loren – that's laughable, with all due respect. Is it your honest contention that Jesus resents those who lack material wealth because they don't use their "gifts?" Jesus himself didn't seem to use his profound gift of ministry to make a little honest cash on the side.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Loren

      Why is it laughable? Are you telling me that someone who sits around all day on their couch watching TV/playing video games and then collects a welfare check is "using" the gifts that God gave him? It is not about how much money you make. It is about not being a lazy sloth.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @Michael: Actually, Loren is one of those laboring under the delusion that every person who is angry at wall street bankers must be a lazy dolt that doesn't want to work for a living.

      Until we can somehow explain to these people that the majority of people are not gaming the system, they'll continue with this flawed understanding.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Michael

      Loren, you're acting out a classic strawman rhetorical fallacy. The argument, here, isn't whether it's ethical or cool to be a lazy sloth. Proudly hammering that point is a cheesy deflection. The question is whether or not Jesus expresses any philosophies or teachings which any rational human can, in good faith, interpret as encouraging minimally regulated exchanges of monies for goods or services. That, with all due respect, IS laughable.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  13. Dustin

    Ah yes, Jesus the Mexican. Real good guy... I know this because I've actually seen him. Seeing *is* believing!

    December 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  14. sandusky

    Tony can occupy my boyish backside while he tells me more nonsense

    December 6, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  15. Loren

    I agree with the article. The issue I have with the Occupy movement is that it operates under the guise of protesting a corrupt government and greedy corporations. However, their actions don't seem to further their alleged cause. The public sees the Occupiers as a group of people who would rather camp out in tents at night, stand in the street during the day, bang on drums, urinate in the streets, etc. How do any of those things affect any change to an allegedly corrupt governmental and corporate system? I will be the first to admit there are problems with our government...but it is certainly not because corporate CEOs make more money than they may "deserve" or because corporations pay less taxes than they should. Jesus was very clear that the kingdom of God was there for those who worked for it...it was not a place for the lazy. Of course, he didn't condone greed or putting down others for your own benefit. But he did condone hard work and helping those WHO COULD NOT HELP THEMSELVES. True, there are some people out there who are physically or mentally unable to be gainfully employed – and those individuals and their families need our help. And we should help them – NOT the government. However, these Occupiers who spend their days complaining are certainly doing nothing to improve their situations or improve our nation.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Michael

      The Biblical parable the author cites isn't, by any stretch, a condemnation of public loitering or urinating in bushes. If that's the take-home message you extract from Jesus' story (understood by any Sunday School graduate to be a lesson about expanding God's Kingdom through diligent action), you'd best spend more time in church and less time searching for restrooms.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Loren

      I don't think you understood the point of my post. My point is that Jesus and his disciples were carpenters, fisherman, etc. They used their talents to help others (in addition to supporting themselves) who were unable to help themselves. I find it hard to believe that those people who think everything should be handed to them would be in God's good graces.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • alex chapman

      It really takes a strained reading of the Gospels & Cherry Picking the language one wants to arrive at a conclusion that one has already formed to follow Perkin's point. A plain reading of the Gospels reveals that those who place too much importance on worldly things miss out on the Kingdom of Heaven both here on Earth & in the next life.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Michael

      Loren, I understand your point perfectly: personal responsibility and hard work are good things.

      That's a strawman, and it's not in dispute.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Holy Cats

      Have you read the Bible, or are you basing your comments on what you have been told is in the Bible? This Jesus people like Perkins refer to is a God that I frankly would refuse to worship.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Loren

      I think the issue here is that we all have differing opinions on what the Occupy movement seems to be about. I have seen nothing positive from it. Sure, it protests "greed," which is a bad thing. But standing around "protesting" doesn't exactly fix the problem, does it? And it seems that the underlying reasons why greed is suddenly being protested is because people are unable to find jobs. And they see CEOs who make millions of dollars and it ticks them off. Because they don't that. And of course, they aren't going to put any blame on themselves. For buying a house they couldn't afford, or racking up tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. So they will blame corporations and the government instead. And they will demand that things change so that they can continue to live in their expensive house or continue to use their credit cards. Now, that is a general statement and I am sure there are people who don't fall into that category. But in my line of work, that is what I see all day long. And it gets irritating. And I am a Catholic who reads at my church almost every Sunday and gives to far too many charitable organizations...and I just dont think Jesus would condone that kind of behavior.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  16. Tom

    This is right-wing, rich, "how dare anyone be poor in the USA" mentality at its worst. Jesus attacked a "free market system that reward[ed] diligence" when he cleaned out the temple. When he did this, he also took over and trashed property, and he engaged in what I'm sure his contemporaries would have considered "antisocial behavior." But Jesus was on a different mission and when he returns, the concerns of this world will be non-issues.

    The question is how are we to live until then. What ought Christians do...or anyone for that matter? The occasional abuse Mr Perkins refers to has thrust hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people out of work the world over, and it nearly collapsed the financial system as we know it. Mr Perkins suggests that we all, Christians included, should just ignore it, roll up our sleeves, and rebuild our lives with the sweat of our brow, while the masters of the universe on Wall Street devise a new house of cards to destroy peoples lives.

    The biggest flaw in the Occupy movement is that it doesn't realize who's really at fault. If they did, they would occupy Capitol Hill and demand better regulation and enforcement. But at least, unlike Mr Perkins, they see there is a problem.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  17. Tony Perkins is KKK

    Wow, here's Tony Perkins telling us about Jesus.

    Here he is getting in trouble for getting the KKK mailing list as he was involved in campaigning.

    http://www.thenation.com/article/justice-sunday-preachers

    What would Jesus have to say about involvement with such evil racist people?

    CNN, do your homework. Don't put this garbage up when this man is garbage – talking about what he thinks about Jesus. Lame.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • alex chapman

      Jesus said "Love each other as the Father loves you". Not the initial impression that I get reading what Perkins has said in the past.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  18. Tzo73

    Here is a parable. A servant is given 10 minas and told to occupy until his master returns. The servant goes to a poor village and buys many sheep which have been raised through the hard work of others. He increases the number of sheep he can buy by haggling with the villagers who are badly in need of the money he has. The servant takes the sheep to another much more prosperous village and sells them for double what he purchased them for. He has to pay 2 men for helping him transport the sheep but they are poor and he is able to pay them very little. The servant then returns to his master and gives him the profit for which he is rewarded with greater responsibility.

    Can u guess the moral? Everyone in this story got screwed except for the master of the servant. The poor people of the village worked hard so that a rich man could buy their produce for less than it was worth. The servant did a lot of work of his own and used his knowledge of local markets to make a profit, which he couldn't keep and was then given even more work to do. And the guy who started with all the money in the first place has even more and he didn't have to lift a finger to get it. The moral: don't start off poor in the free market system (unless u want to break the law)

    This article is offensive. The system IS broken and the ones who don't think it is are either delusional sellouts or gritting their teeth and hanging on by their financial fingernails and refusing to believe that things are not just about to be all ok. We live in a world of 8 billion people now, we may need to change the way we do things and a lot of people need to wake up to that and open their minds. Hard work doesn't make you rich, just ask a migrant worker.

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

    Er, a – WHAT?

    December 6, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  20. Stephen

    What on Earth is this guy even talking about? The occupy movement isn't against the free market. Ill-informed and a waste of CNN's bandwidth.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • cb

      couldn't have said it better myself.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:00 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.