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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. attucks1986

    This is a joke, right? "Give all you have and sell it to the poor?" "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven?" How long will Christians allow conservative, profit driven "pastors" like Tony Perkins, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and the ideological descendants of slavers and crusaders speak for the faith?

    December 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • blf83

      Amen!

      December 6, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Andrew Chelsea

      "give all you have and SELL it to the poor"?!?!

      Read the bible before you start quoting nonsense.

      December 6, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  2. Dan

    What Jesus would or would not have done has NOTHING to do with the morals of the movement. This man ignorant and modestly intellected. His false god does more harm than good. Arguing against a movement because it is what Jesus would have wanted makes one an idiot. Using religion to claim a moral high ground is beyond ridiculous.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  3. Brett

    This is pathetic. Perkins claims that "the fact that Jesus chose the free market system as the basis for this parable should not be overlooked." How would a system that exploits millions of people worldwide for the benefit of a small oligarchy be something that Jesus would praise?

    The Christian Right in this country has confused economics with religion. It's terrifying.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  4. no

    "Occupy till I come."

    December 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  5. anonemouse

    When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me."

    John 2:13-17

    December 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  6. Ivan

    When did CNN start publishing articles from The Onion?

    December 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Lisa

      It would have been nice if they grabbed one of the good jokes though...

      December 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  7. Brad76

    What a brainwashed corporate bought partisan hack. The author of this abomination is going straight to hell.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  8. JayKay, Minneapolis

    Tony Perkins. Just another wolf in sheep's clothing.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  9. Greg

    Wow! So it turns out Jesus has the same values as most bankers, stock brokers and CEOs and is oppossed to the values of the homeless and disenfranchised. Only a comfortably wealthy American, Repubulican could come up with that one.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Lisa

      Greg – Don't you remember how Jesus said "Blessed are the CEO's" oh and then there is "It's easier for a rich man to get into heaven than a camel to fit though the eye of a needle" – or something like that...

      December 6, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  10. sunblur

    You did more than just inhale ... right?

    December 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  11. k

    When did Jesus become a billionaire businessman?
    It clearly says in the Bible that Jesus said: "Go forth my disciples and sell stuff made in China."
    Yes that is sarcasm.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  12. Lolololol

    I am pretty sure the only time Jesus got violent in the bible was when he saw some money changers and decided to chase em away from the churches... Free market my @ss...

    December 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  13. CJ

    I believe in Christ but this man is twisting scriptures. Yes, Christ said to occupy or keep busy with work until His return but these people are protesting because the scale for employment and right to "luxury" has been tipped so far that only a little more than 1% of the world's population get to enjoy that benefit at a level that is comfortable.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  14. Ian

    What a completely skewed, right-wing fundamentalist perspective on Christ and his teachings. Jesus advocated for the indigent and the sick; those that were shunned by society and left to suffer due to the apathy and indifference of those more well off. To assert, in essence, that Jesus would be in favor of maintaining the status quo in a society where there is horrendous income inequality and an increasing consolidation of wealth and power is absurd.

    Christ may not approve of the portion of the Occupy protestors that have behaved poorly and/or unlawfully, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't condone the underlying principles and concerns that motivate the movement as a whole. This is just more Republican propaganda to try and justify the dissipation of the middle class and the rapid movement toward a peasant/overlord scenario reminiscent of the middle ages.

    And to further advocate the absurd notion that one's difficulties in life are always just a matter of personal choices and work ethic is beyond the pale. I'm not buying it and neither are a LOT of Americans.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  15. jim

    Wow, CNN has sunk to a new low. What a joke of an article.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  16. Earthcrisis

    I bet Jesus would like to kick this guys a** more than I would!!

    December 6, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  17. Norm

    Yeah! Jesus would have been bundling mortgage backed securities and bilking people out of their life savings. Which book of the Bible can we find that information in?

    December 6, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Tyler

      It is ridiculous to compare Jesus. I'm so sure he wouldn't have one inkling of compassion for the struggles people are going through. Maybe he forgot to mention free speech and demonstrations 2,000 years ago. Go away you sad writer.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  18. Mathew 19:24

    And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

    King James Mathew 19:24

    December 6, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Mike

      That's not just in Matthew. It appears multiple times:

      Matthew 19:24
      Mark 10:25
      Luke 18:25

      Must be important...

      December 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • EV

      Its so funny when people cite that verse thinking it means that rich people can't go to heaven..

      December 6, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  19. Buddhism > Christianity

    Then I am glad that I am not a Christian

    December 6, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  20. Brian

    Love they neighbor as thyself. This just doesn't fit into the greedy corporate world or this writer's politics-wed-with-religion agenda. Spare us your fundamentalist BS.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:55 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.