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. Chris

    What about the parable of the workers. The dudes who worked for an hour got the same pay as those who were there all day?

    December 7, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • andrew.peter

      The parable you're talking about is called "the workers in the vineyard" and it doesn't advocate communism anymore than this parable advocates capitalism. If you wish to apply it to our society though, it would be advocating that we have no minimum wage and no one to know what each other is making. Because the point of that parable is that they all agreed – indvidually – to the wage proposed by the employer. It was only when they got paid that they discovered the "unfairness". But the employer's response was "didn't you agree to work for this wage? now take your money and go. Don't I have a right to give how I wish to give?"
      It's really a lesson on comparison. You worry about yourself, and not trash others for what seems unfair.

      December 7, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Chris

      Did I say anything about communism?

      December 7, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Chris

      Actually all of the economic parables were about spiritual capital, not monetary capital. Even the rich young ruler, Jesus really did not care about the money except that it was blocking the use of his spiritual capital.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  2. Richard

    I wasn't aware that the Occupy group was a religious movement. Why use a religious argument towards a group that is not a religous movement. Doesn't make sense to me. For the record, this "religous argument" is filled with all sorts of holes that are too many to even begin to address!

    December 7, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  3. B4Cons

    "What so ever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me" ...... "

    December 7, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  4. t.marino

    This man doesn't have two brain cells to rub together. Next we are going to hear bible interpretations from Charles Manson.

    December 7, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  5. SimUser

    My Take: Leave Bronze Age Mythology out of Modern Politics.

    December 7, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  6. Jaime

    Clearly, Jesus was saying you should all be businessmen, because Jesus was clearly pro rich people in all his dealings.

    Mr. Perkins betrays himself as a shill for Ayn Randian Atheistic Philosophy with this garbage opinion piece.

    December 7, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  7. Arcturus

    This is like someone quoting The Lord of the Rings and trying to decide if Frodo was a capitalist or not. Flawed reasoning based on a fictional book? This country is indeed on the wrong path, as the baggers are so fond of saying.

    December 7, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  8. cz77

    Does anyone see the irony in that Perkins chose a parable from Luke 19 to illustrate his point?

    Luke 19 opens with Jesus traveling through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. In Jericho, Jesus lodges at the home of Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector. Tax collectors were reviled by their fellow Jews because tax collectors worked for Rome. Zacchaeus, so moved by Jesus' love, announced that he would give half of everything he owned (Zacchaeus was a wealthy man) and repay four-fold anything he had taken wrongfully.

    Again, Zacchaeus proclaimed that he would repay four-fold anything he took wrongfully from others (we call this corruption). What a lesson for corrupt CEOs and politicians in our age!

    Just to address it, I think that Perkins either (1) misses the point of Jesus' parable or (2) is deliberately warping its meaning to serve his own purposes.

    December 7, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • andrew.peter

      Nope. This is a pretty accurate interpretation. I don't think it's an advocation of Capitalism, but a look at how things work with God.

      December 7, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  9. Keneth

    Why do I care?

    December 7, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  10. Jim

    The Sermon on the Mount is lost on the "religious" right.

    December 7, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  11. Jesus


    December 7, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • God

      I know Son, these people are hilarious, let's go grab a beer and pick up some chicks.

      December 7, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  12. tekstep1

    This guy is the head of the Family Research Council – 1st indication that he has no clue what he's talking about. Didn't Jesus trash the market at the temple for being greedy? Didn't he say it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven? I'm an atheist and I know this stuff. Thats why the Bible is so dangerous. Anyone can twist it around to make their point.

    December 7, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • andrew.peter

      And you sir just did it. The market in the temple was trashed because they were profaning the temple. It was to be a house of God and not a place to cheat people out of money.
      Also a "rich man" can't enter the kingdom of God because he is rich in this world and not "rich towards God". That's stated as well. It has nothing to do with the fact that he had money. It was only because money was his god.
      Why don't you go back and do a little more studying of Scripture. Practice interpreting Scripture in light of Scripture. It all needs to be seen in context of itself.

      December 7, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  13. james

    "Rather we are to occupy by using that system ethically as a means to advance the interests of the one we serve." Even when the one you serve is yourself as happens on wall street. So now we are to believe even Jesus would dis the occupy movement, shame on you for suggesting so. So now we are to believe Jesus was concerned that we all live in a free market society, be careful religion has been used to justify a lot of abuses.

    December 7, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  14. grist

    Yeah, well Jesus never existed. So why should we care about a parable attributed to a ficticious person? And should we really agree that money should be taken from the man who kept his money? Is that something a god would recommend?

    December 7, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  15. DGoodin

    This article is a classic example of selective vision. Jesus was a socialistic, anti-establishment troublemaker who opposed the greatest military power of his day without violence. Sounds like an Occupier to me.

    December 7, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Scot


      December 7, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  16. dave

    Imagine that, free market capitalism spelled out for us through Jesus' words and we only figured it out 1700 years later! Adam Smith, you just got owned. Anyone with a little education, some free time, and a political bias can twist the Bible to their own ends. Try reading the Bible the opposite way - as a way to shape your beliefs rather than a tool to justify them - and you might get it right next time.

    December 7, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Eddie

      How do you know which came first in Perkins' mind? Bottom line, you don't. You're quick to paint him in your light because you disagree with his position.

      December 7, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  17. Arn

    Not surprising, given that people have been distorting Jesus' message to fit their own agendas for as long as he's been dead. Perkins is just the latest in a very long list.

    December 7, 2011 at 9:26 am |
  18. Robert

    The book of revelations says that there will one day be a false covenant. This guy is evidence that it is here. What a skewed viewpoint of the scriptures. Makes you think of the power that the true ignorant people can have.

    December 7, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  19. woow

    Who cares what the Greek meaning is when the bible was originally written in Hebrew.

    December 7, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • Eddie

      The book of Luke was written in Greek, not Hebrew.

      December 7, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • JoeK

      The New Testament, from which this proverb was taken, was written in Greek. It's amazing how little people know while thinking they are some sort of authority.

      December 7, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • JoeG

      Ummmm...some of the Gospels were originally written in Greek. The OLD Testament was written in Hebrew.

      December 7, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  20. Dos Ruedas

    Hey Ding Dong, pretty sure Jesus was standing up against the Jewish ruling class that controlled the wealth. You ever read that bible....hell even the skewed King James version nails this point.

    December 7, 2011 at 9:13 am |
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