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. Richmond

    Didn't Jesus turn over the money tables at the temple? That actually sounds more destructive to "public property" than anything Occupy Wall Street has done. Mr. Perkins's article is pathetic.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  2. Lynne Schendel

    Hmmm......I seem to remember Jesus getting pretty ticked off at the money changers.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  3. Mark

    Tony Perkins has no idea who Jesus was. To claim otherwise is to display both his ignorance and his arrogance. He is typical of those on that right that try to cloak a hard-core economic conservative soul in a religious-right shroud.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  4. MG

    Unfortunately, what Mr. Perkins doesn't understand is that the Occupy movement is not against free markets. It is against predatory markets that are setup with regulations that promote higher profits for corporations through predatory practices that harm the individual. It's about fairness, which I think Jesus would be all for.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Matthew J

      Mr. Perkins ALSO doesn't understand that for all his reference to Greek words, THERE WAS NO FREE MARKET in the first century. His interpretation is completely anachronistic. But if we're going to go there (i.e. use Jesus for our purposes, rather than his purposes), one could just as easily have used Jesus' parable regarding the servants who came in the last hour and got paid THE SAME AMOUNT as those who came in the morning. Where's your free-market Jesus now, Perkins?

      December 6, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  5. Brian

    Whatever legitimacy Mr. Perkins had just went out the window and I reject his notion that one cannot be both a "free-marketer" and in support of the ideas brought forth by the Occupy movement. There is no compassion in Mr. Perkins' conservatism.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  6. Chase

    Since when does CNN give air time to a hate group?

    December 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  7. Saboth

    Someone might know the Bible, but they sure don't know politics, financial systems or America. It's quite humorous when we are told to spread the wealth and help those less fortunate...but that only applies to the lower classes. The rich can pay their workers the bare minimum and provide shoddy healthcare while sitting on literal mountains of money.

    I also think there are quite a few Fox News watchers that think the whole OWS is about wanting a free ride. I've worked since I was 16, and have worked for everything I have. Yet, I see problems with a system that pays a CEO in a failing company 15 million a year plus stock options for just cutting some jobs, then jumps out on a golden parachute before it all crashes, while a Janitor that has worked hard at the same company for 20 years makes minimum wage and cant afford health care.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  8. jimbo

    This article is almost as stupid as believing in Jesus.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  9. Ted

    Jesus would't like the occupy movement because Jesus was too big to fail.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  10. Ohio Paul

    Wow, now CNN, how about an op ed from an agnostic? What's next? Opinion pieces from Westborough Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps? Since the Bible cannot be taken litterally, there are as many interpretations as there are preachers...

    December 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  11. eve

    I am ashamed that CNN would publish anything by this hateful man. It is beyond obvious that he has twisted the Bible's words to support his far right political views and to endear him to the politicians his views serve. For shame CNN.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  12. Bob Barber

    I thought Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the temple.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  13. FL2011

    It is ridiculous that CNN would choose to have this on the font page of the website.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  14. Supply Side Jesus

    The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.
    ~John Kenneth Galbraith

    December 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  15. Tim

    Ive seen some ridiculous opinions in my life but this piece by Tony Perkins may take the top prize. To try to tie the Gospel of Christ to present day neo-conservative, right wing economic theory is the height of arrogance. Mr. Perkins should be ashamed to put forth such trash. Mermo to Mr. Perkins – Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the temple! Maybe the OWSer's are on to something here.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  16. One more Christian who hates this

    Hey Tony, aren't you all the group that keeps saying, "Christians should get INVOLVED and should TAKE A STAND FOR WHAT IS RIGHT." ??? So isn't it funny how, when people stand up for moral positions YOU don't agree with (like "Greed isn't good," "We should take care of the poor"), oh, all of a sudden you're telling them to sit down and be silent.

    Pure hypocrisy. But then, that's been the Christian Coalition's SOP from the beginning, hasn't it.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  17. joco

    You might not agree with Mr Perkins view, but...in the parable Jesus told, he did not say "We need to re-distribute what everyone else had to offset the fact that you (wicked servant) did nothing with your portion. The nobleman OMG wasn't fair!

    December 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  18. CuriousAboutStuff

    The writer is stating HIS interpretation for this parable and while I'm new to this walk with my Saviour; I've been around for 53yrs and I see that parable differently than it's been presented here. I will pray about what the writer has said, but I feel that Jesus wasn't talking about monetary gain – this is the challenge, as we are all responsible to find righteousness (being "right" before God) by having a personal relationship with our Father and we need to continually press through the Word and make sure we are not being taken off the path – don't critize this writer until you're sure you've got it perfectly understood yourself. I personally think that looking at more than one teaching from Jesus will give a more balanced view of how He wanted to model how we should behave and using one example to push an earthly agenda can never be good – we should do our best to obey God's desire in all things ....

    December 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  19. Jesus occupied!

    Jesus ABSOLUTELY was the occupier! I recall him kicking the "free marketers" a55es from the temple. Tony Perkins is a path.etic little Devil's panderer.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • joco

      Wall St is not the temple...

      December 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • gypsyboomer

      Joco Oh really not a temple of capitalism Hummm.

      December 6, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  20. mike

    So THIS is how conservative "Christians" align their so-called Christian beliefs with their anti-Christian behavior. With the appropriate application of mental gymnastics, ANY amount of cognitive dissonance can be overcome...

    December 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
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