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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. Dwight

    This article remind me when about when politians tried to use religion to justify being selfish. Jesus went to the temple and overturn tables in anger. He did something to demonstrate that things where being run wrong. If the government and congress are not doing their job. People must do something to show that they are not satisfied. If the government and congress do nothing when complaints are made. Most people believe this is the best way to get their voices heard.

    Shame one the this article.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  2. Jay

    Last paragraph: "using that system ethically as a means to advance the interests of the one we serve." Therein lies the problem: most people at the top of the system advance their own interests; serving money rather using money to serve others. As Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money" (Matthew 6:24). In Luke 19, just prior to teaching about the use of the talents, Jesus radically transformed the life of a wealthy tax collector by the name of Zacchaeus. Jesus did not compliment Zachaeus for being a savvy businessman but he did commend him after Zachaeus promised to give 50% of his wealth to the poor and return everything gained by cheating with a 400% interest! Now there's a business model for the Wall Street people! Clearly Jesus taught a radical way of living and sharing wealth with the less fortunate among us. In fact it is so radical that the powers to be have always tried to modify and dilute it to something less that what Jesus really taught. Let's not forget that the rich, young man who came to Jesus for some council left with a sad heart because of his unwillingness to follow through on Jesus' advice to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. The moment we try to make Jesus a supporter, or poster boy of one of our broken and evil systems, he will come in with the whip, cast out the business dealers and overturn the tables of those who use religion for profit. The rule of God that was at the core of Jesus' message cannot be bound to the constraints of any political, economic system.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  3. Ungodly Discipline

    There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.

    Dalai Lama

    December 6, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

      Confucius

      December 6, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  4. jv

    In summary, what this says is...............ditch Bible and read The Wealth of Nations

    December 6, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  5. Mike in AZ

    Jesus wasn't a conservative either, and he didn't encourage his followers to engage in the political process to push theology on a secular empire.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  6. jv

    So, if Jesus was for free markets, WHAT DOES THAT MAKE ADAM SMITH?

    Shouldn't he, along Von Mises and Friedman, play a bigger role in the Bible????

    December 6, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  7. Phil

    The stupidity of this article is actually really impressive. I won't even touch on the obvious facts that Jesus didn't write anything, and that an actual "word of god" wouldn't take Nicean conventions to discern what should and shouldn't be put into the rulebook. To categorize a free market as something that is "occasionally abused" is ludicrous, and you should be as ashamed of yourself as someone who feels that everything should be controlled by the government. THAT can't even happen in a corporatist society like ours, because our government is not 'of the people' in any way beyond what is beneficial to business. Please, dear sir – the next time you feel a need to publish a half-assed correlation between your economic and religious preferences, lie down until the feeling goes away. Then, when you get up, take some history courses, and maybe some bible study that centers on the origins of the material, and not just about how you should apply it to suit your whim. Foolish, embrrassing article.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Cory

      Phil I must say I couldn't have said it better. This article is appallable and I completely agree with your quite accurate assessment. This occupy movement is about, if you want to put it in religious terms, the sins created by greed and corruption. Has the Lord not taught us compassion for each other as human beings? Has He not taught us what love truly is? He sacrificed everything to save us. He did it out of love. He did not teach us the immorality that prevails in the power hungry corporate world. He did not teach us to destroy the world we live in. He did not teach that the dollar is almighty. The dollar does not come before human well-being or life. The dollar does not come before people who are more than willing to work hard and create the opportunity to succeed for themselves and their loved ones and want more than anything to succeed but have been unable to because the opportunity is not there. The opportunity has been taken away by the frivolous abuses of power and greed of human beings. Human beings who interpret the world as Tony does. Tony you should be ashamed of yourself because there are millions of people in this country who do work hard and and get almost nothing in return. Do you know what its like to struggle as someone who works a minimum wage job does? Don't you think they would much rather not be forced to work for such a small amount of pay and have every dollar they have be put toward just survival? Do you have any clue how difficult it is to have to make a choice between getting medicine for your sick child or keeping a roof over your head? Do you not see the suffering in the world because of the inequalities and deliberate injustice not just in a dollar value but in the opportunity value? People when given a choice are, for the most part, not lazy or unproductive. They are more than willing to put forth the effort when given the true opportunity to succeed. Tony, your ignorance and self-deluded claims are a disgrace to the human race. How dare you twist the word of God to fit into your reality!

      December 6, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  8. Total Non Sense

    Jesus was is a FICTIONAL CHARACTER. it had nothing to do with reality.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Not impressed

      Well at least you labeled what you wrote correctly... Total Nonsense

      December 6, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • sickofit

      No worries man, I agree. IF there was a Jesus Christ, I think he would be behind the OWS movement 100%.

      December 6, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  9. Thinker

    Its a shame that CNN would give space to the leader of a hate group.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  10. Colin Dean

    I don't know about that.

    I would say that Jesus may not have asked for the reforms for which the Occupy Movement is asking. Jesus would be flipping tables now just as he did in the past, and chiding the 1% for their greed while respecting their right to keep their wealth if they so desire.

    If Jesus was the 1%, he'd be giving of himself until he had nothing left to give and not expect some government to take care of his people/employees for him. Perhaps if the 1% acted more like him...

    December 6, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  11. Bryce

    Religion is about control, just look at the Muslims, have you seen a group more tightly wound than them? They pray 5 times a day and follow to the letter ( at least the ones we hear about in the media) the rules and regulations of their religion.

    I've always been fascinated by their devotion to their religion. Never has a group of people been as brainwashed as they. They want to kill anyone who in anyway alters their view, poor Van Gogh in Holland, murdered by a Muslim fanatic for committing the great crime of CRITCIZING the Muslims.

    How ridiculous and pathological is that? Are you so brainwashed that your beliefs cannot be questioned? Is your religious foundation so fragile that a critic results in a murder of the critic? Yes, it is. Religion, especially the abusive religion of Islam, hangs by a thread, the false belief of all religions rest on magic and faith, two things that the modern world doesn't embrace except, as entertainment.

    We, as a people, as a planet, will not take the next step until we do away with all religions.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Bryce

      I think the one thing I hate most about Islam is that Islam has no humor.

      Islam is about robotic devotion to the magic. Bow down five times a day and DON'T ask why. Just do it !

      Where is the humor? Where is the humanity? Humans are not obedient robots, Muslims are. They are so brainwashed that even after two generations have been in a new country that cannot assimilate. Most immigrants within two generations have assimilated very well. The Germans, the Italians, the Irish, the Mexicans, the Vietnamese – but not the Muslims.

      This doesn't reflect the strength of Islam as much as it reflects the ignorance of their followers. Muslims will not make good Amercans or Australians or Kiwis – people who believe in independence and personal freedom. These people are slaves to their religion.

      December 6, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  12. MrHighMighty

    Jeremiah 23:1-2: Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD. Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD.

    Beware of false teachers. Mr Perkins doesn't understand parables. Parables are analogies to illustrate deeper truths. This parable is about how Christians are instructed to USE THEIR SPIRITUAL GIFTS to advance God's purposes. This is not instruction to invest money in a free market. To equate a story of spiritual gifts to actual money is the same as using the temple for business, which Jesus threw out. Mr Perkins needs to study Jesus' other teachings, and repent for the evil he has perpetuated with this column.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  13. Tom Seving

    Tony Perkins has served up a pitiful excuse for an analogy here. What message does he send to Christians by glorifying a King's enslavement of his subjects? That those who are enslaved should work diligently and industriously to please our masters? Tony is laughable as a religious leader – He's barely passable as a political talking head. Apparently he searched the Bible for the word occupy and proceeded to cram that square peg right into a round hole (how imaginative); worse, he places more value on the words/actions of a murdering King than on those of Jesus himself. If you really want to know how Jesus feels about holding accountable those who exploit their fellow men for greed and profit, reed Matthew 21:12-13. Jesus, realizing that the temple has been turned into a haven for thieves, enters, throws out the traders, and overturns the money-changing tables. What OWS is doing now is done in the footsteps of Jesus – a modern-day cleansing of the Temple. To suggest that Jesus sympathies lay with the slavers and not with the slaves is beneath any man of God, but definitely NOT beneath Tony Perkins and his slimy ilk.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  14. Locker

    Gee how can I twist Christianity and the words of Jesus to justify unrestrained consumption, greed and a lust for power. Never mind, Tony Perkins already has it figured out.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  15. cal usa

    We should ask Mr. Perkins what Jesus would say about the hoarding of cash being practiced by our corporations who are sitting on trillions on their balance sheets. This is one of the main drivers of the dissatisfaction being expressed by OWS, but we would not expect a professional "Christian" to agree with that.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  16. Eric

    Hey Genius,

    Here's an idea: How about coming up with a persuasive argument for or against something instead of telling us what someone who is not you would have thought?

    It's funny Jesus has an opinion of something that occurred a couple thousand years after he died. Funnier still, he happens to agree with you!

    I'm sicker than sick of people trying to use people who aren't them and who can't offer an opinion for their own political means.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  17. RevGal

    Mr. Perkins, that's quite a creative hand you've taken with Biblical exegesis and your interpretation of the occupy movement. Your article is quite politically opportunistic ... not to mention an irresponsible interpretation of Scripture and society. Get thee to a church or a seminary for help reading your Bible...

    December 6, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  18. jv

    "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"

    Yep!! Bernie Madoff also engaged in transactions of some sort

    December 6, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  19. anon

    Don't pretend to know what Jesus's stance on economics was, you nut. The idea of "free market capitalism" didn't even exist back in his day.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  20. Audrey

    Baloney.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:26 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.