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. Brenda

    Several things wrong with this idea. Forst the premise goes against all the other teaching of Jesus, you know little things like blessed are the poor, In fact the early Christian church, containing the very ones who heard this message and did not have to have it translated for them established a communist community. Look at Acts, possessions were pooled and shared with the group.
    Jesus also spoke out against greed. He warned of storing up treasure on earth, where it would rust at the expense of treasure in heaven. Most likely if Jesus were here today he would still be reaching out to the outcasts of society, that is what he expects us to do as his disciples.

    December 9, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  2. Erin O

    It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
    Matthew 19:24

    December 9, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Adel

      Bob, your question iveolnvs a false assumption (that you have a proper understanding of the Bible verses or of how Jesus felt about himself). I recommend that you go to the public library and read several bible commentaries on Philippians 2: 5-11 and Luke 2:49. As to Psalms 69: 7-12 which was written hundreds of years before Jesus was born, it hard to say this refers to Jesus, although he did suffer much as these words indicate. Keep asking questions but read, read, read.

      April 2, 2012 at 4:14 am |
  3. Michael

    First, it would be hard to argue against the fact that Jesus urged people to use their talents and gifts and be productive members of society. This advice, however, does not place Jesus at odds with the Occupiers and in line with Free Marketers. Jesus often warned against excess, avarice, and corruption. He often urged followers to aid the poor and the osctracised in their communities. And, of course, Jesus famously said, "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the gates of Heaven." Jesus was certainly not a 1%-er. He would avocate economic justice and opportunity for the less-fortunate. While the messages of the Occupiers are many and often are difficult to extract, it is clear that many of these people are worried about the economic injustices of our current system.

    As for your parable analogy...this parable is about using your talents and not wasting what God (the King) has given to you. The lazy servant wasted his talents and therefore wasted what God had given to him. This is not a story about investments or hedge funds or market principles necessarily. It's about using what you have to better our world...find what you're good at and then use it to make a real difference in the world. That's Jesus' message. Stop twisting his words to advance a cause which bears little to no resemblance to his actual teachings.

    December 9, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  4. enginerd

    “it is the have-nots who are the beloved of God.”
    The interpretation I had always heard from this parable was that the Talents represent gifts from God; that we all have been given some “gift” something that makes us special. In this sense the nobleman’s anger would be like that of God’s if we were to take God’s gift and then just bury it, never using it. Instead we should be using the gifts God has given us to benefit the whole, growing interest being positively influencing those around us.
    I think that trying to literally apply a PARABLE to an economic interpretation in the context of the Bible is just ignorant. It’s sad to think that the mentality of people “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps” is so lost and people just want handouts… I like many of the “occupiers” went to college received a 4-year degree and didn’t find a job. Rather than give up and live in my parent’s basement, I decided to go back to school to obtain a second degree for which there was more demand. Yes, I have a lot of student loan debt, but by choosing to take responsibility for that and budgeting and planning I hope to be able to get out from under my student loan debt in about 10-15 years. Which again through budgeting it is not impossible for me to buy a house either, only though not being responsible and if I tried to throw starting a family in the mix is it not manageable. In my opinion many people are just upset about where the decisions they made got them in life and are looking for anyone to blame.

    December 9, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • Tiffany

      Just what health care needs, a tiotrual on how to be an obnoxious patient and throw your weight around at the hospital. Good thing no one pays any attention to CNN anymore.

      April 1, 2012 at 3:34 am |
  5. Sean

    If this fellow has truly read the Gospels, he knows what he's saying is COMPLETE nonsense. I find it more likely that he's trying to get people talking by being outrageous. I don't hear many entrepreneurial capitalists saying things like: "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." Mark 19:21. I notice Perkins forget to mention this quotation.

    December 9, 2011 at 3:01 am |
  6. Larry G

    The Republican interpretation of this parable makes God an absentee landlord. It praises slaves who, contrary to Hebrew laws about usury, earn interest on the slave-masters's money. The Republican version condemns the slave who nonviolently refuses to participate in this unjust system. It seems to me Jesus wanted to make the third slave the real hero. Many of Jesus' parables are lessons for how the weak and powerless can survive in a cruel and unjust economy that gives them no chance of economic success.

    Jesus began his ministry by declaring a Jubilee year (Luke 4:19); this entailed a redistribution of wealth as well as the forgiveness of debt. Unlike Obama – who listens to Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, and the big banks – Jesus was a socialist. His disciple rejected private property and shared everything (Acts 2:44-47.) Jesus did not equate wealth with virtue. In the Magnificat His mother passionately rejected the rich and powerful who oppress the weak and the poor.

    The Jesus of the Bible would be out on the streets with the Wall Street Occupiers.

    There's not a hint of free market capitalism in the story of Jesus.

    December 8, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  7. psdfas

    This is why the church banned people in the beginning from reading the bible, because people just would never get it. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/occupy-the-bible-why-jesus-is-not-a-free-marketer/2011/12/06/gIQAGDnMaO_blog.html?socialreader_check=0&denied=1

    December 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  8. Jeremy

    "Jesus rejected collectivism"

    Strange how you suggest all of this parable to be Jesus' instructions on economics. Did you read the entire Bible? The first thing the Apostles did was form a COMMUNE after the ascension of their messiah. Jesus (God) even struck down one member who refused to give 100% of his wealth and property over to the fledgling Christian commune. If what you say is true then why did Jesus bless the apostles by alowing them to show the signs of speaking in tongues, faith healing and such instead of punishing them and giving their powers to those "more deserving"? – I'm an atheist and I know clearly that the parable you quote is about spreading the message of the Gospel, not an outline on how economies should work.

    December 8, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • BruceInDenver

      The Apostles did not waste their spiritual capital as the slothful servant in the analogy did.

      I'll be glad to contribute 100% of my income to the "collective" when that "collective" consists entirely of true Christians and saints as was the case in the example you cite. Until then (the 2nd comming), any such effort is doomed to be taken over by charlatans, the greedy and the power hungry, as is the case in our presents government's dabbling in socialist actions.

      Capitalisim, regrettably, allows abuse. The more evil people are, the more abuse happens. The better people are, the less abuse occurrs. Socialism is inherently abusive, because it is administered by men who don't believe in God, and thus can't act rightly, except as an unintended consequence of trying to acheive their evil ends.

      Everyone, even atheists, has the divine spark. When you do good, whether you know it or not, you're doing God's will; when you do evil, whether you know it or not, you're doing Satan's will. That's the simple truth, but very few know it, or realize its significance. The Bible calls on us to conciously try to do God's will, and to constantly praise Him. More people need to read the Bible.

      December 8, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • glenn robert

      How much was a CEO paid at the time of Christ?

      December 9, 2011 at 2:44 am |
  9. Bud

    You have missed the whole point of The Parable of the Minas. The parable is not meant to be a ‘how to’ in business, investments or banking but rather, a ‘how to’ on disciple making, “witnessing,” working to build the “Kingdom of God.” Jesus’ edict to his followers was to “go and make disciples” using the spiritual gifts they had been given. Not all are gifted evangelists like Billy Graham but all have been given a measure of some particular ‘spiritual’ gift and are to put it to use in the “occupy” movement of Christianity. Likewise, the Parable of the Sower is not about farming, it is about sowing the gospel and the different reactions of various kinds of people.

    As for Jesus rejecting collectivism in favor of your brand of individualism, Acts 2;44-47 says this about his earliest and most dedicated disciples; “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

    Maybe you should dig up whatever spiritual gift you have buried and put it to use in the “Occupy Movement” before Jesus returns.

    December 8, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  10. JamaicanJewel

    What is clearly lost to christians in general is the fact that the gospels were selected over three hundred years after the purported life of a supposed holy man to whom miracles and parables were attributed. Only those with a commonalty of narrative were used and works by the Gnostics, for example, were rejected as heresy and those gnostics marked for death – they were the only group of people for whom murders was approved in Rome at the time. So this point is moot. You can make a compelling case using any dogma that the goings-on in this country is approved by your faith leader but we are left with the fact that reality trumps religion always and there is no excuse for the destruction being wrought on this country by capitalists. Onward and upward OWS!

    December 8, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • glenn robert

      Yes! The trouble with faith is, it is not testable.

      December 9, 2011 at 2:47 am |
  11. S. A. Smith

    2 Thessalonians 3:10(NIV)
    For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

    2 Thessalonians 3:11-12 (NIV)
    11 We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.

    December 8, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • glenn robert

      We have about 200,,000 veterans commng home from Iraq and Afganistan who may never be able to work, shall we starve them?

      December 9, 2011 at 2:51 am |
  12. Scot

    What I think is interesting is the CNN.com presentation here, contrasting it to the "My Take: Occupy...looks like church to me" entry. That article is reinforced with images of the protest chaplains; this article is broken up by subheading hyperlinks to pages that go contrary to the article's purpose/statements.

    CNN, is this merely accidental?

    December 8, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  13. christie weber

    I cant believe this very limited bias opinion is getting any airtime without seriously questioning the obvious or even one easy counter point; Simple Questions like
    So, Which rewritten version of (imperfect )mans interoperation of the Latin bible did you pick your quotes from?
    How did you miss that "Greed" is a mortal sin, with gross capitalism on Wall Street , banks and world corporates? see following pages;
    its a real sin this wasn't expanded on air but.
    -" Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked."
    Proverbs 25:26

    December 8, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Ramondo Robinson


      December 8, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Dennis Fung

      christie, here's some more quotes, since you are blogspamming your evil site here.


      "Because God liked Abel's animal sacrifice more than Cain's vegetables, Cain kills his brother Abel in a fit of religious jealousy. 4:8

      "I will destroy ... both man and beast."
      God is angry. He decides to destroy all humans, beasts, creeping things, fowls, and "all flesh wherein there is breath of life." He plans to drown them all. 6:7, 17

      "Every living substance that I have made will I destroy."
      God repeats his intention to kill "every living substance ... from off the face of the earth." But why does God kill all the innocent animals? What had they done to deserve his wrath? It seems God never gets his fill of tormenting animals. 7:4

      "All flesh died that moved upon the earth."
      God drowns everything that breathes air. From newborn babies to koala bears - all creatures great and small, the Lord God drowned them all. 7:21-23

      God sends a plague on the Pharaoh and his household because the Pharaoh believed Abram's lie. 12:17

      God tells Abram to kill some animals for him. The needless slaughter makes God feel better. 15:9-10

      Hagar conceives, making Sarai jealous. Abram tells Sarai to do to Hagar whatever she wants. "And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled."

      December 8, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • ashrakay

      I can add that jesus was a bringer of war and a home wrecker. Matthew 10:34-38
      34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. 37 Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me."

      December 8, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  14. Cecil Harden

    Mr. Perkins, It appears that you have completely missed the meaning of Jesus parable at Luke 19:12-26. The pounds or money represents the commission that Jesus gave to his disciples to go and make disciples of people of all the nations. Matthew 28:18-20. This was and is a spiritual activity,not a materialistic one. Upon Jesus return, he would reward those who had done what he commanded them to do,and discard those that failed to heed his words. Jesus said:"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth,where moth and rust doth corrupt,and where thieves break in and steal;But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt,and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is,there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21. Jesus also said:"No man can serve two masters: for he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Matthew 6:24. I fear for you and anyone that listens to you.

    December 8, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • Dede

      He knew about 300 years after his death, at the Nicene Councils where he was deified. Before that, he was not cedeinorsd to be God. There is no such thing in Judaism as the Messiah being God. Or dying for anyone's sins either. What you believe in comes from ancient paganism, not from Judaism.So therefore you need to keep your twisted interpretation of Psalms out of my Jewish Bible. There is no Jesus in the Jewish bible, and it certainly is not referring to your pagan human sacrifice there in Psalms.I found your question to be EXTREMELY insulting. I'm going to give you a break though, and just assume that you're as ignorant as most Christians are about where the foundations for Christianity actually came from paganism instead of Judaism.

      April 1, 2012 at 7:56 am |
  15. mark

    This is a parable, and as such is not literal but rather a "....a story...which illistrates one or more illustrative or instructive principles which feature human characters...and are a type of analogy...". The word comes from the Greek, parabole, and means literally analogy. The figures in Jesus' parable are definately engaged in activities that further the gifts that the owner in the parable has given them. These gifts are in the form of currency. However, as an analogy the obvious meaning is not the meaning, but rather perhaps Jesus used this analogy since he was dealing with the likes of Niccodeamus, a tax collector and therefore a man who worked in the world of ancient finance and dealt with currency. Jesus used terms his audience could understand. But the parable as all of Jesus's parables is about God's coming Kingdom realized in the person of Jesus, and the currency terms are only an analogy of the spiritual gifts God gives to God's believers through this Jesus. To whom much is given much is required, SPIRITUALLY, not in literal terms, although much is also required in literal terms from those who have been given much in this world financially. I think that by trying to make the parable fit a situation in today's world is a dangerous enterprise that easily leads to false understandings if the analysis is literal.

    December 8, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • sickoftalking

      The author isn't missing the point you're making. He's just saying "it's not an accident" the parable for spirituality draws from the marketplace. He's trying to argue that the implication is that Jesus recognized that the way things work is that there are people who make good with what they have, and are rewarded for that, and people who squander what they have, and aren't rewarded. And there isn't anything evil about that.

      If anything, he's making a mistake by making generalizations about Occupiers and assuming they all want to redistribute wealth to people who don't deserve it.

      December 8, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  16. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    What a smarmy do.uche bag. Interesting how the christian cult members can see through him, but not their own cults' delusions. What is up with that? Selective insight?

    December 8, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Steve

      I want to thank you for asking questions about spiritual
      matters. Nobody has answered your question so if you dont
      mind just one persons opinion here's mine. My spirituality
      is a journey and a quest for truth and answers, its never
      a destination. Its a quest that leaves more questions than
      answers and if I find an answer..I ask another question.
      Keep challenging..keep asking. Bad things happen when people
      dont ask questions.

      December 9, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  17. Kandle

    Matt 21:12, 13 "Then Jesus went to the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13) And He said to them "It is written 'My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have turned it into a den of thieves.'" This is also repeated in Mk 11-17. As I read this and many other different passages within our Book I don't see any where Jesus threw anyone out of a bank ank told him he was a tihief and to stop his business.
    Don't get me wrong here. I do not agree with the practices that are going on regarding the bonus system of CEO's and do believe that something has to be done. How to do it is not "occupying" or picketing. This is not a stike zone. BUT to bring our Lord into it as they have done is blasphemous and until they read His Book they should leave it alone.

    December 8, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  18. Ramondo Robinson

    82,000 dollars paid to a KKK member by Tony...today Tony wants to tell the world WWJD, I guess ^^^He^^^ would have done that as well.... I see a fool given a pulpit, let the blind follow the blind.

    December 8, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  19. Marisme

    I wish CNN would stop knocking on the doors of right-wing politico/religiosos for commentary. Although vocal conservative Christians would like you to believe otherwise, there are more independent and politically liberal Christians than the so-called 'family value' Christians. Let's get some balance.

    December 8, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Ramondo Robinson


      December 8, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  20. Martin

    Hey, Tony. Read your Bible ... look up Matthew 20:1-16. You should have quoted that parable, as well. Instead, you revealed that you filter/interpret Scripture through your political sieve.

    It would be very nice, if for once, my fellow Christians that have a public podium would preach the entire truth instead of partial truth. Partial truth mimics truth, but is very wanting ... and scandalous.

    December 8, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Owen Williams

      I might have used the word blasphermy in place of scandalous?!

      December 8, 2011 at 10:32 am |
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