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. Jeff

    And you wonder why people are moving away from religion...

    December 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • JasonE

      Please remember that Jesus would deny Mr. Perkins as one of his followers. He is more of a Pharisee.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  2. jimmy dean

    Jesus was the first occupier........Period. Jesus wanted peace and to give money to the poor. Anyone that disagrees with that doesn't believe in Jesus. They believe in some other thing.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  3. James

    The Family Research Council has again proven its true mission which is to play the holier than thou card to promote a right wing agenda that includes screwing the poor and middle class and helping the rich. What a bunch of hypocrites and phonies!

    December 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  4. Hold The Sausage

    Why on earth is CNN giving a hatemonger like Tony Perkins a platform on which to spew his fundamentalist bile? His views are slightly more legitimate than David Duke's, but not by much. You guys ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  5. wpp105

    Hmm, didn't Jesus trash a temple?

    December 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  6. vel

    ROFL. OH my, I do love how Christians are so amazingly ignorant of their own bible. Or that they are trying to lie about what it says assuming that no one has read it. No, JC was a communist (little "c") he and his apostles put all of their wealth together. Paul's churches did too, to the point of killing members if they kept something back from the group (see Sapphira and Anaias). JC was also for paying one's actual taxes and not finding loopholes and for taking care of one's fellow man (the least of these, yes?). Of course, most Christians also don't want to follow JC's words of giving up all they have and following him. So inconvenient, when you don't know when, or if, JC is coming back.

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

      You're actually correct in most of what you've said, but don't take Perkins as "most Christians." You describe a good amount of Christians, but many actually try to live what the Bible says and don't twist it to suit their own agendas, as Perkins is doing here.

      Also, according to the Bible, Peter didn't kill Ananias and Sapphira. Rather, it was a punishment from God for lying about how much they were helping the needy, which should give Wall Street pause.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  7. James

    I'm pretty sure this parable, like most of Jesus's, is meant to be taken figuratively. My interpretation goes something like this:

    Jesus is trying to tell his apostles not to be idle with what He has given them: knowledge of Him and His message. He wants them to go out and spread the word, not wait around for the end of the world.

    Because the free market system is all that Jesus' apostles would have been familiar with, this is the setting that he told the parable in. I doubt that Jesus was trying to advocate neglect of the poor, as some other commenters here have so aptly pointed out.

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

      Indeed how does figure out what is literal and what is metaphor/figurative in the bible? Every believer has their own magic decoder ring that not surprisly matches exactly what they feel and not some magical god.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Gabe

      Vel, the Bible is clear on what is literal and what is figurative. The problem is that most Christians live their lives based on a book they've never even read. Parables such as this one are used to illustrate a single point, and are usually prefaced with something to the extent of Jesus responding to a question or situation. To nitpick through the details of a parable, as Perkins has done, is a sign of someone who knows little of the Bible.

      Parables need to be examined as a whole, and only as a whole. Once people begin to insert their own views into the details, they're introducing error.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  8. Hugo

    Yes the people who make 99% of the money year in and year out only pay 50% of the taxes and they say their burden is to great.

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

      The top 1% do not make 99% of the money, you moron

      December 6, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  9. Sue

    Jesus lived over 2000 years ago. Both sides have little idea what he would have actually thought, and should not claim to know.

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


      I don't claim to be an expert, but from the one book with a bunch of eye-witness accounts that have been rewritten, edited, translated for over 2,000 years actually gives me the most perfect picture of what jesus was thinking and doing at the time. I just want you to know, because I have this handy dandy book it's entirely possible for me to infer what Jesus would/would not want

      December 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  10. greg

    If Jesus was anything political from a modern standpoint, he was a SOCIALIST. Capitalism didn't even exist back then. However, the idea of communities supporting each other was alive and well.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  11. vp


    self-serving tripe, Mr. Perkins.

    and you know it.

    you're as dishonest as the day is long.

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

      As true as the day is long.................How did our economic problems become an argument about what Jesus would have said or did? This sounds like a South Park episode.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  12. dzaffina

    100% rightwing propaganda from the head of another rightwing propaganda machine that has way to much influence on our political system.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  13. WWJeff D

    So what is it that Tony doesn't get about Occupy , Jesus' beliefs and methods or a Free Market which in reality
    has Never existed? Apparently EVERTHING!
    What a MORON!
    A few million less Tony's would definitely make the world a better place.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  14. Wilson James

    Goodness, this man is snake oil and bullsnort. I would no more trust a right wingnut preachers interpretation of anything Biblical than I would Newt with my secretary.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  15. doggg

    Occupy (with business) till I come = Jesus is coming... look busy!

    Honestly, how he goes from "keep yourself occupied" to "Jesus was a free market capitalist" is beyond me. This article is just completely asinine.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  16. mike

    this guy is a tool. Jesus is a liberal – i think he loves sweet kind bud too. Bong hits for Jesus

    December 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  17. Will

    Family Research Council has been deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Tony Perkins is a fraud, a swindler and a hater who should not be trusted by anyone.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Sue

      CNN shouldn't even give him a platform.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  18. JasonE

    If by "advancing the interests of the one we serve" means treating people equitably and fairly and doing unto others as we would like them to do unto us, then I agree. Mr. Perkins makes it sound more like a business transaction, which I don't believe is what Jesus meant. The money changers are in the temple.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  19. citizenUSA

    Doesn't the tale go that Jesus bashed the money mongers?

    December 6, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Jason

      Yes. And this article is written by a modern day money-changer.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  20. Maya

    This guy is about as adept at cherry-picking particular parts of the Bible to support his opinions as any other Christian. They all do it.

    Fact is, there are parts of the Bible that support Jesus as a capitalist, and parts that support Jesus as a socialist. Why? The Bible was written by different people with different opinions and had no central, divine inspiration.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
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