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. Stormin' Norm

    Unbelievable that Mr Perkins has such a shallow interpretation of the parable of the talent or is this deliberate on his part to misinform knowing very well that most people will believe him on face value since he represents a Christian organization (if at all). That parable does not in any way or form endorse free market system or capitalism or any other ism. Even my youth group of 12-15 year olds easily saw that Jesus was talking about being Spirtuallly fruitful while we wait for His return.

    December 8, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  2. Shannon Michael Pater

    For a significantly different exegesis of the same parable from Matthew, I call your attention to an article/sermon I delivered last month: http://whereheartandmindmeet.ccuccatl.com/2011/11/18/a-sermon-revisited-disgust-as-instruction/

    December 8, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  3. Owen Williams

    Mr. Perkins obviously doesn't understand the parable. It speaks about the kingdom of heaven in knowledge and works not money. Mr. Perkins will be one of those that will have it taken away from him when the time for his judgement comes.

    December 8, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  4. T Lane

    Tony, perhaps you forgot to read the story where Jesus told the rich man to give up all his possessions and the young man became sad because he didn't want to. He had obeyed all the laws his whole life but he loved money too much. Maybe, you forgot that he told us "the love of money is the root of all evil". Maybe you forgot, "what does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul".

    No, I don't think he was a free-marketer as defined today. Yes, people need to work - if you don't work, you don't eat.

    But he was all for the poor and disadvantaged. The playing field is not equal and there are so many people who don't have parents to "look out for them" . I believe this is what Jesus has called us to do – look after the poor, widows and orphans. Free-marketers don't believe that. In fact, many of the rich don't want to pay their fair share. Many of the companies drain the government. Corporate welfare is real.

    I mean there are so many scriptures that you read about his love for the "least of these" How can you people get it so wrong. Take a year off and study the bible -on your own and ask God to clarify that which you clearly don't understand.

    The government is doing the job of the church. The welfare system should be operated by the church- not the government. But too many so called Christians only want to fill their pockets and are too greedy, lazy, mean and judgmental to do the work he called us to do.

    I have only heard a few rich people exemplify Godly ways. Warren Buffet is one that comes to mind. My 80 year old grandmother said it plainly-Buffet wants to see Jesus. The rest of you so called Christian are nothing but heathens and love this world more than anything else.

    December 8, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  5. Mike Mavrides

    Interestingly, Mr Perkins uses interpretations of greek and old english words to make his point. He then proceeds to assert the meaning of Jesus's parable as if he has perfect knowledge of Jesus's mind. The most fundamental element of religious faith IMHO is the certainty that God's (and Jesus's) mind will never be clearly and completely understood by the mind of man. In other words, Mr Perkins, do not attempt to "interepret" God's plan or Jesus's parables as if you are the sole authority. I have my own mind and my own faith and your interpretation does not ring true with me.

    December 8, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  6. Corey Williams

    Is this guy serious? Parables are allegorical. You dont use a parable about money to teach a lesson about money.

    December 8, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  7. EC2

    Tony would you say that Jesus taught how to speak to the government as the prophets of old testament did speaking on how they cared for the people that God allow them to govern. It is the responsibility of who have the faith to take care of their brothers and sister in Christ. That's why in the early church they gave up their possession so that all needs were meet and no one lacked. The gospel is a social gospel that was written during a time of oppression and when they were occupied.

    December 8, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  8. josh

    Tony. Jesus was for the poor he frequently spoke against the rich. " it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom." I dont know if you are dumb or paid off maybe both

    December 8, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  9. David

    Mr. Perkins misses Jesus's point entirely. He wanted his disciples to be productive members of society. In this way, they would be more effective in spreading the good news. Jesus gave examples that made sense to people in his community. This was not an exclusive list.

    December 8, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  10. Grant

    Mr. Perkins has missed the whole point of the parable. Jesus was using the language of the times, in this case coins, to illustrate a larger point that seems to have flown right over Mr. Perkins' head. We need to be careful about saying Jesus is endorsing a certain type of behavior he describes in his parables.

    Jesus does talk about a form of capitalism in the Luke parable, but he talks about slavery in a parable in Matthew 18. Does that mean Jesus endorsed slavery?

    December 8, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  11. Glenn Curtis

    Your bought and paid for .... you are no better than the Tax collectors Jesus threw out of the Churches....

    December 8, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  12. steven c

    of Course, God only care how much money you make. if you make enough, you won't even need him. The church do it all the time. I don't Remember Jesus turning a profit, I do remember the only time he got upset was in the market place, when he found people profiting on the word of God. My favorite Jesus saying, Do good to those who hate you. Tony, you are suppose to occupy the place of Jesus until he returns, take care of others.

    December 8, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  13. Tom

    Some day you will stand before the Lord, Tony.

    December 8, 2011 at 6:53 am |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by Tom is a common version of the fallacy known as Pascal's Wager.


      December 8, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  14. steve

    Of course Jesus was a capitalist! do you know how much the cost of admission was to see his sermon on the mound? CRAZ?Y high prices! Sure his message was about Love, peace and salvation... but whats wrong with making a little cash on the side? I mean I'm sure Jesus would be driving a Farrari if he was around today!

    Come to think of it, if Jesus was around today, he'd sell soul insurance, and with the money he made of suckers he could build houses and loan people money to buy the houses they can't afford... THEN when they defaulted on their loans, he could cash out with a golden parachute, and pay himself a severance bonus of a couple hundred million, all while poor people struggled working 2 jobs (if they were lucky enough to have one at all) to put food on the table, and keep their kids in school and off drugs.

    Man you totally nailed Jesus Mr. Perkins... (pun intended)

    December 8, 2011 at 2:43 am |
    • Pamela Haley Design

      Oh, History does have a tendency to sugar coat everything. One day; "W" will be the the resurrection and Obama will be the Anti-Christ. In the mean time; payroll tax cut could expire and people will owe more to social security they will never recieve because Republicans won't let Millionaires pay 3.25% more. Oh, and if we do continue a "tax cut" We'll probably get an Oil Pipeline and legalize stoning adulterers.

      December 8, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • Owen Williams

      Amazing, another brain dead dude!

      December 8, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  15. steve

    The parable isn't about money, or being rewarded with money. That is nonsense. there is nothing spiritual about money. I have a hard time swallowing the fact that someone could take that message away from that parable.
    Jesus (the king) was about to be crucified (leave) he was leaving his disciples with something far more valuable than money, the good news. he had spent his years living among men showing man how God wants us to live. his message to his disciples was to spread the good news and work hard to progress towards salvation.

    why do you feel a need to put words in Gods mouth about how He feels about the occupy movement?
    You have absolutely no insight into God's will. you couldn't possibly understand it if you did. you need a dose of humility.

    December 8, 2011 at 2:20 am |
    • Bob

      God needs money. Obligatory Carlin video:.

      December 8, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • steven c

      Jeuss did say to use money, as tainted as it is, to make friends.

      December 13, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  16. Knight1b

    Allow me to be brief and on the subject of the free market. In order for so called self regulating principles of a so called free market to work the system must function as either a closed loop in a small isolated community or an open system fully interacting with outside influence. Which one depends all on the behavior you want to influence. However the real world sees systems in a constant flux of both or often enough as something in-between. As such an outside influence must act upon the system to maintain proper balance. Will the market regulate environmental issues? No and if it did we would not have company's dumping tons of toxins into air water and soil around the world. Will it regulate safety issues? If it did then then we would not have events such as the BP oil spill or coal mines that explode due to improper safety procedures. Maybe wages can be handled totally by the market? But no if this was true then we would not see an explosion of billionaires alongside an explosion of working people who don't make enough to make ends meet.

    While it is true that within our current system those things I touched upon have regulation governing them the point is if the market was capable of taking care of them on its own then such regulation would be redundant. But clearly company's do dump toxins into the environment as much as they can legally get away with and sometimes more. They do put profits above safety as much as they can get away with and more. And executives do suck up millions if not billions of dollars from corporate coffers while rank and file employees are to often left struggling just to make ends meet.

    If the world where a place of rainbows and unicorns where no one ever did anything stupid reckless foolish greedy or downright immoral then perhaps a case could be made for the so called freemarket. Get back to me should that ever happen.

    December 8, 2011 at 2:02 am |
  17. Yerben

    Jesus warned us over and over about Pharisees and hypocrites. Did that problem disappear that today's megachurch preachers never ever mention them? No, it's because those churches are being run by the Pharisees and hypocrites.

    December 8, 2011 at 1:30 am |
    • Steve

      You are so right. I am sick to death of articles that maligning other
      people's faiths. The worst things happen when people use
      others faiths to further their own political agendas.

      December 8, 2011 at 7:16 am |
  18. Soporifix

    How surprising that one of the most vile bigots in all of American society thinks Jesus would be on the side of Goldman Sachs. Thanks for your input, Tony. but the very word "Jesus" sounds like excrement in your mouth.

    December 7, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
  19. Floyd Miller

    I will see his Matthew 25:14-29 and raise him a Luke 3:11, Acts 2:44-45: 2 Samuel 12:1-5, Matthew 19:24, Matthew 5:1-11, Acts 4:32-35, Luke 7, Mark 10:17-23, Romans 13:6-7, 1 John 3:17, Leviticus 25:35, Isaiah 10: 1-2, Amos 8:4-8, James 5:1-5, James 3:14-18, James 2:1-9, James 1:9-11, Proverbs 22:16, 22-23, and Isaiah 3 13-15.

    The last paragraph may have been true at one time, but now the abuses are Legion, in more ways than one.

    December 7, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  20. MyNameHere

    Yeah, so no... that wasn't Jesus' message... but this was:

    Mark 10:17-25
    17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? 18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. 20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. 21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
    22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! 24 And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 25 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.

    December 7, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • josh

      ive read the bible over twenty times i know what it means. all you did was post the longer version of what i quoted

      December 8, 2011 at 10:09 am |
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