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. Bob

    "The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tony Perkins as no decent human being would have them."

    December 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  2. Danny

    I think if I worked for Fox News I would be on the air calling out the liberal media conspiracy. The fact that CNN would cherry pick such a misrepresentation of Christianity for their front page article proves beyond a doubt (unless you stop to think) that they are biased against conservatives (not to be confused with Christians–but if I worked for Fox News I probably wouldn't make that distinction).

    December 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  3. Insomnius

    hmmm a bunch of Christians sitting around wondering how a Jew would have reacted and then deciding that's how they too shall react...

    December 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Debbie

      No, but he may have done it for a Klondike bar! how stupid is this editor? First of all Wall Street would not exist, those tables would have been turned over a long time ago!

      December 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  4. mark_s

    "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." Really? I'd suggest the author check out another parable that Jesus told - the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:16). And it strikes me that the earliest Christian community in Acts practiced an alternative economics that looks very different from the free market. (See Acts 2:42-47) It seems to me that the whole point of the good news is that we get what we DO NOT deserve. "God helps those who help themselves" is not found anywhere in my Bible.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • George

      However ... the concept of God helps 'those the help themselves' is very clearly in the bible..... drill a well and God will send rain to make the wells overflowing etc (not and exact quotation).........you get the idea!

      December 6, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • sharon

      Well said. Jesus said "It is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than it is to get into heaven" (maybe not exactly, but something extremely similar. The other thing Jesus said was something about "painted sepulcurs" in reference to folks who pretend to be holy but inside are rotten.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • mark_s

      While I certainly think you can find examples that seem to support this, the more dominant theme in scripture is that God provides food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, freedom for imprisoned, justice for the oppressed, and grace for the sinful.
      "God helps those who help themselves" is a perversion of scripture.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Bill J

      Hi mark_s,

      I wanted to make a comment regarding your interpretation of Matt 20:1-16. While the workers who started early in the day viewed it as inequitable that the workers who started late in the day received the same amount they received, the point of the story is not that everyone should get the same amount regardless of what they do. The point is that the owner has the right to do whatever he wants to do with his money, whether a worker thinks it is fair or not. Furthermore, the point is that no one should be jealous of what anyone else gets if you are getting what you agreed to work for.

      The way that applies to heaven is basically it is Jesus' choice who he lets in to Heaven. So, don't be jealous if you have worked hard as a Christian for 80 years of your life when another person becomes a Christian the last year of their life and you both get the same reward of getting into heaven. In other words, it doesn't matter when you become a Christian as long as you do it before the end of your life.

      It was just a parable that says we all get the same reward of going to heaven because that is the agreement in place for those who choose to become Christians regardless of when in life the choice is made. It doesn't say that regarding all things everyone should get paid the same. The most you can get out of the parable is that Jesus believes that every landowner who puts people to work on his land has the right to pay them whatever he chooses regardless of whether the workers think it is unfair to them or too generous to others. See how the parable ends in verse 15 "Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?"

      December 6, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • mark_s

      Thanks for the reply, Bill. I actually agree that the parable I cited has little to say regarding economics. What I was trying to point out - unclearly, I grant you - is that if we are going to say that the parable of the talents supports free market capitalism (it doesn't) then there are other parables that would go against that. In my view, both interpretations miss Jesus' point.

      December 6, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Cathy

      that, allow me inform you just what ecxltay did give good results. Your text is highly persuasive and this is possibly why I am taking an effort to opine. I do not really make it a regular habit of doing that. Secondly, even though I can certainly see the leaps in reason you come up with, I am not confident of just how you appear to unite your details which inturn help to make the actual conclusion. For right now I shall subscribe to your point but trust in the future you connect the dots better.

      April 3, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  5. WhatwouldJesusVote

    [wikipedia] Tony Perkins paid former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,000 for his mailing list, and then tried to hide involvement with Duke, sending payment to Duke through a third party. The campaign was fined $3,000 for trying to hide the payment.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • JamesBenson

      Beat me to it. The shenanigans of preachy people always amaze me. Anyone know this guy's salary?

      December 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  6. Trololololo

    not sure why this is on the front page of a NEWS website. the media reports FACTS, not BELIEFS. besides, they've totally missed the point anyway... ...the parable in question is about going out and becoming richer in faith. going out and using the gifts entrusted with the servants to make more. to take it literally is totally missing the spiritual point.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm |

      because CNN is not a NEWS site. By giving a platform for this hateful pig, CNN once again proves it is garbage.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Larissa

      MistyXoXo Posted on Thank you, Beth! I like the post you made for the member's page. I look foarwrd to seeing more posts from you and other participators. <3

      April 1, 2012 at 2:15 am |
  7. joco

    All jesus wanted from the money changers was to move their business from the temple, that was not the place for business.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  8. Tony N

    Perkins – I hope you are completely correct and St. Peter is standing at the gates of Heaven, ledger and quill pen at the ready. I'll make a prediction here and now – the evangelical right of which you are a leader will be on the express elevator south for perverting for your own gain the philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  9. Gannt

    Classic Christian revisionist – pick and choose from the Bible as if it's an all-you-can-oppress buffet.

    And CNN, stop your bs, you darn well know you support this article. Otherwise what's it doing pasted on the front page?!

    December 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  10. RevDana

    Wow! I've been in ministry for over 30 years and that is the wildest interpretation I have ever heard for that parable. Mr. Perkins makes several assumptions about OWS that are clearly influenced by his close connections to corporate moraliity and then builds his interpretation on his particular perspective. One of the cardinal rules of interpreting ANY parable is to remember that it is intended to make you examine your own prejudices and perceptions – to make you stand outside yourself and take a look at what makes you tick – not to point fingers at someone else. Mr. Perkins has clearly forgotten that parables attempt to illustrate how we might change for the better – not how current perspectives "prove" that God loves us best. Shame on him.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  11. Todd

    LOL, Let's argue about how the Easter Bunny would have sided, or Santa Claus.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  12. J. Marrone

    Tony Perkins, at best, misses the point of the current occupiers, at worst, intentionally distorts the view. Occupiers are not anti-free market or anti-capitalism, but rather advocating for a fair and just market. Jesus was the prime Egalitarian, certainly speaking more for the 99% than the 1% . . . and yet he WAS there for the 1%, too. What Jesus definitely voiced was the concern for those in need. And recall the angry Jesus in the temple, tossing the money changers' tables over [You provocateurs, don't you DARE take this as justification for your evil destructive actions!!!]. The temple had been disgustingly transformed into a greedy "Wall Street" of its day. The scene seems to echo the current Occupiers' frustrations with the Wall Street few of today, money-changing their way to wealth at the expense of the rest. But remember that Jesus was not advocating complete social revolution. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, but render unto God what is God's. And he sat down and had dinner with the tax collector. Now wouldn't that be a modern day miracle, to see a Democrat and Republican sit down to dinner together, exchange ideas, and come away with joint plan of a solution to our problems. Halleluiah!

    December 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  13. terry

    I believe Jesus would have identified more with those seeking social justice. What are the first programs cut by the GOP when it comes time to trim the budget? Oil Subsidies? Oh no nope Medicare, foodstamps social programs that actually help people. I also do not believe in a free ride for anyone but people need help from time to time and some people are not offered the same choices or have the same opportunities and these programs step in and help. As far as making an argument for unfettered capitalism with the words of a self proclaimed bronze age messiah well that is streching things a bit is it not? Mr.Perkins?

    December 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  14. Harks

    Luke 12:33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Bruce

      But see the Greek for "sell" actually means "rent" and the Greek for "give to" actually means "spit on."

      December 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  15. Allen

    It appears to me that the opinion is making a case for the occupy movment through unintelligent asumption. The writer assumes that the occupiers are lazy neo nazi facists and are not puting forth effort to do anything. Well people are talking that is something.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  16. Sparko

    Disagree! We need to stop treating the free market like its sacred-sactifed by Christ. Unfettered capitalism runs on greed, one of the 7 deadly sins. The free market is not abouve reproach nor is it the answer to all our economic "prayers". Jesus did not get involved in politics but he is noted for getting pretty mad over using a temple as a place to make money. He also had a lot to say on the pitfalls of wealth. Greed runs this country, our modern version of Christmas proves that. Its time to say enough is enough if we want to preserve our democracy.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • scott

      We have been taught to bow at the alter of unregulated free markets because the elites want to be free to do their biding. Lets be honest. You have more money than God. Are you going to let some middle class loser, or their middle class government, tell you how to live your life. No! You are going to do everything in your considerable power to prevent it. You are going to look down on them. You are going to try to make them love the very things that weaken them and protect you. Just look at the state of our democracy.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  17. drock

    James 5:1-5 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • scott

      There is no Christian God, but if there were, the wealthy wouldn't fair well at his time of reaping. The whole concept is founded on taking from someone without caring about the consequences. It's just hard to equate that with any real human decency. Yes I know, It's terribly unfair, just like having children you can't feed is too. They think they are the strength that provides security, but historically it's just not the case. They are the strength that enslaves and ensures that they get what they want. Nothing more.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • DeLynn Anderson

      Right on! Well said.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  18. Arthur

    Jesus most likely wasn't, at all.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Me too

      He's a historical fact

      December 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • lolwut

      thhhhhhankk you.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Sparko

      You can debate his divinity, but yeah, he did exist. Look him up.....

      December 6, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  19. Dave Jaipersaud

    Jesus also said that everyone should pay their fair share.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  20. Ben

    I'm done with you CNN. I have given you many chances in recent months, but you have slowly morphed into a cross between the National Enquirer and Entertainment Tonight. I can get real news from a Google News search.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • bucky

      Google News is an aggregate. They compile news from other sources...including CNN.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.